Friday, May 1, 2020

The Bees@Schools Program

Some years after the last run of our successful School Malaise Trap Program we started thinking about new ways to involve citizen scientists at schools in our research. We pitched an idea to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and were granted some funds to set it up and start with a few runs.

The Bees@School project initially involved 100 school classrooms in discerning critical information on the changing geographic distributions of plant-pollinator interactions across Canadat. By combining state-of-the-art DNA barcoding of bees, and the pollen they carry, with distribution and climate change data, we are collecting data to show how distributions of Canada’s bee species are changing along with climate. The project will also help to determine how pollination services shift across Canada, with impacts on food production. The ultimate hope is to provide landscape management advice to improve vital species' chances of persisting in agricultural landscapes and alleviating pollination deficits. 

Each participating school receives a wild bee nest box (perhaps better known as bee hotel) in the spring that is installed throughout the summer. In the fall, nest boxes are sent back to our institute. Here, the contents of the nest boxes will be analyzed using DNA barcoding of the larvae we found and metabarcoding of the pollen that was provisioned for them. 

The project is run by one of my grad students, Sage Handler. She is doing pretty much everything from communication with schools and the public to the laboratory work and data analysis. As you can imagine, her planning for this year's run was thrown into chaos once the COVID-19 pandemic caused major lockdowns including the closure of schools here in Canada. However, we were able to shift gears and run the the program regardless. Thanks to the support of so many teachers 200 traps are currently deployed across Canada. You'll find them in teacher's backyards, school yards or public spaces and now we are developing material (videos, activities for kids at home etc.) to keep this as educational as possible amidst the school closures. This video is just an example on how kids can learn and interact with the program. 

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