Around the world, there are 180,000 plant species and more than 1,200 crops that need pollinators to help with pollination. Pollinators come in a variety of shapes and sizes and include birds, bats, ants, flies, moths, wasps, butterflies, beetles, small mammals, and of course, bees. Canada is home to more than 700 native species of bees making them our most common pollinator.
Unfortunately, bee populations are in trouble and declines have been reported around the world. The possible causes are many and complex, including loss of pollinator habitat, pesticide exposure, disease, and climate change. Dr. Dirk Steinke, a researcher at the University of Guelph came up with the idea for a new program called “Bees@School” where students at schools in Toronto and Waterloo can help monitor bee populations in their area by using “bee hotels”.
Bee hotels are designed to host solitary species of bees and therefore differ from the honeybee hives that may come to mind when thinking of a bee “home”. Whereas honey bees are social and can be aggressive, our native solitary bees are non-aggressive and non-swarming. The “bee hotels” consist of clusters of small tubes (see above photo as an example) that the female bees use as a place to protect and feed developing larvae.
University of Guelph researchers involved in the program will use DNA barcoding technology developed at the University to identify the larval species and the food stored by the females. This will provide an idea of what the bees are feeding on and which flowers they visit. They will also be testing for parasites.
In addition to providing insights into pollinator health, Dr. Steinke hopes that Bees@School will open student’s eyes about science and that it is not a dry subject merely confined to classrooms and labs. There is a possibility of engaging with the world and really making a difference.
Although the first pilot year is focused on schools in Toronto and Waterloo, Dr. Steinke hopes the program could soon be expanded across Canada. The University of Guelph will receive $36,300 a year for three years from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to fund the program.
Dr. Dirk Steinke is faculty and Associate Director, Research Coordination at the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Guelph.
For more information on bees and other pollinators, please visit the links below
Pollinator Health, Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks:
David Suzuki Foundation:
Friends of the Earth:
Canadian Wildlife Federation: