Before I headed to Austin, TX last week for the SXSW music, film, and interactive conference (I helped put together a panel discussion there on the Future of Gaming for Discover Magazine and the National Science Foundation), I Googled “citizen science in Austin” and came upon the Texas Beewatchers. The organizer of this citizen science effort, Kim Bacon, and I had the opportunity to chat about her project which originated as a simple observation effort and now challenges her fellow Texans to plant 52 “bee friendly” gardens in 52 weeks. You can read more about that, here.
Listening to Kim’s enthusiasm and genuine desire to create healthy bee habitats–coupled with news about bee colony collapses and its impact on the $14 billion worth of U.S. crops dependent upon pollinators–opened my eyes to even more recent buzz about bees. Today, in San Francisco (where I am now, meeting with the founders of the Coalition for Public Understanding of Science ), the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting featured some troubling news about bees. Christopher Mullin and his colleagues at Pennsylvania State University report that their research* demonstrates “unprecedented levels” of mite-killing chemicals and crop pesticides found in hives across the United States and parts of Canada. In this Science News article, Mullins adds: “The biological impacts of these materials at their dietary levels on other honey bee larvae or adults remains to be determined.” Some suspect these contaminants play a role in the mysterious colony collapse.
None of this sounds good for the future of honey bees, so this year I’m committing to participate in another Bee citizen science activity: The Great Sunflower Project. Simply plant and nurture sunflower seeds as directed in the ScienceForCitizens.net project description, and watch a bee pollinate roughly every 2.6 minutes! By synthesizing such observations, the organizers of this activity hope to standardize the study of bee activity while providing more resources for bees.
*The 19-page report can be found in the March PLoS ONE.