On any warm, sunny day during the growing season, you can observe an abundance of different species of bees visiting fruit and vegetable blooms: bumble bees, honey bees, leafcutter bees, mason bees, sweat bees and more. Wisconsin has over 400 species of native, wild bees that were here pollinating wildflowers long before the European honey bee was brought to North America in the early 1600s.
Wild bees are uniquely adapted to the Midwest’s climate and ecosystems, yet their populations (and contribution to crop pollination) vary from farm-to-farm based on the local availability of foraging habitat (i.e., flowers), nesting habitat and insecticide use. This local variation in pollinator abundance and diversity is one reason why it is challenging to provide farm-specific information about the strength of the local pollinator community for crop pollination. With just a handful of researchers out in the field each growing season collecting data, it’s difficult to gather enough data to develop models that can predict wild bee abundance and diversity across Wisconsin’s landscapes.
To address this challenge, the Gratton Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Entomology has created a new citizen science app called WiBee: The Wisconsin Wild Bee App that will enable growers to help us survey wild bees on Wisconsin fruit and vegetable farms. The WiBee App (pronounced wee-bee) is publicly available for anyone to use, whether you are a gardener, grower, student, or just interested in bees. We invite you to take part and use the app to survey bees on your farm or property as soon as the bloom begins this spring.
A new smartphone app to survey the wild bees on your farm
The goal of the WiBee App is to observe and collect data on the abundance and diversity of wild bees visiting blooming crops on your farm. With the app, you complete 5-minute timed observations of bee flower visits on a small 3 x 3 foot patch of a blooming crop. After you install the app and take a brief tutorial on how to identify bees, here’s how it works:
- Select a 3 x 3 foot patch in bloom to survey.
- Answer a few questions in the app about the habitat/crop you’re observing.
- Begin your first 5-minute survey. While the timer counts down, observe and record each time a bee or other pollinator visits a flower in the 3 x 3 foot patch.
- Once the 5 minute survey is complete, you can move to a new 3 x 3 foot area in your field and start another survey.
We’re asking participants to complete a minimum of three 5-minute surveys on a single day for at least three different days during a crop’s bloom (e.g. complete a minimum of 9 surveys for the apple bloom). It’s important to do observations over multiple days because bee activity is highly dependent on the weather. With more surveys, we will have more reliable data on wild bee community. The more surveys you complete throughout the growing season, the more information you will have about the pollinators on your farm. We’ve designed the app to give you real-time insights about the data you are collecting, so that the app is a tool you can use to track and improve the pollinator community on your farm over time.
Whether your goals are to save money renting honey bee hives for pollination services, understand and improve the health of your local ecosystem, or improve crop yields or quality, it’s helpful to be able to document pollinator activity year-to-year and see trends resulting from changes to practices on or adjacent to your farm. With hundreds of people across Wisconsin’s agricultural lands collecting data during the growing season, our lab will also be building a valuable dataset that can help us study the complex interactions between landscapes and wild bee communities, and share any implications for crop pollination with growers.
How to get started:
- Download WiBee: The Wisconsin Wild Bee app today (available for both Android and iPhone).
- Visit our website to learn how to identify bees: www.pollinators.wisc.edu/wibee.
- Sign up for our quarterly newsletter to stay in the know.
- Open the app and take a short Bee ID Quiz to confirm your identification skills, and then you are ready to begin completing 5-minute surveys of the bees on your farm.
- At the end of the growing season, submit a W-9 form to receive a $50 honorarium for participating in the project (Wisconsin growers only). Email us at email@example.com with any thoughts or questions.
Improving our pollinator communities with more flowers
Both wild bees and managed honey bees pollinate many important fruit and vegetable crops, including apples, berries, squash, melons and cucumbers. A poorly-pollinated crop can result in lower yields and deformed fruit. This spring as you walk around your farm or orchard, take a look at your fields and the surrounding landscape: how many flowers (crop or wild) do you see in bloom? Landscapes with an abundance of flowers throughout the growing season tend to have a larger, more diverse wild bee community that contributes more to crop pollination.
Katy Thostenson is the project coordinator for WiBee: The Wisconsin Wild Bee App, developed by the Gratton Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Entomology. The project is funded by a University of Wisconsin Baldwin Idea Award with additional support generously provided by Gwenyn Hill Farm.This article was posted in Insects and tagged Honeybees, Pollination, pollinators.