In North America the dramatic drop in the population of honeybees, AKA colony collapse disorder, poses a threat to both the environment and the economy. At San Francisco State University, a pair of researchers is enlisting backyard gardeners nationwide to help them better understand why bees are dying off. These projects are easy to do and you can help!
The Great Sunflower Project, is the first project and employs nearly 100,000 citizen scientists annually and culminates with The Great Bee Count, which will take place this year on August 17. How to help? Participants plant a flower. Then during two 15-minute observations each month, count how many bees visit it. Results are posted on the day of the Great Bee Count, adding to Professor of Biology Gretchen LeBuhn’s nationwide database tracking pollinator whereabouts and activity. LeBuhn, in recent years, has found low numbers of bees in urban areas across America – adding weight to the theory that habitat loss is one of the primary reasons for sharp population declines.
ZomBee Watch, is the second project organized by Professor of Biology John Hafernik who discovered that parasitic flies are infecting honeybees. After a bout of disoriented, “zombie-like” behavior in which the infected bees abandon their hives, they die. Volunteers construct a simple light trap to collect bees for observation – monitoring them for signs of the parasite. Any “ZomBee” sightings are to be reported to Hafernik via a website. Hafernik, through the project, has learned the parasitic fly has spread up the West Coast to the Pacific Northwest, but nationwide data will allow him and his team to determine if it has reached the Midwest and the East. When infestations peak, late summer and fall, ZomBee Watch takes place.