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An Example of What 5th Graders can Contribute to an Understanding of Bee Populations

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  • Sam Droege
    All: The recent article on Bumblebees done with the contribution of 8-10 year-olds got me thinking about the role of students and schools in the study of bees.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 16, 2011


      The recent article on Bumblebees done with the contribution of 8-10 year-olds got me thinking about the role of students and schools in the study of bees.  The bumblebee article passed through peer review and I am sure the students got a great introduction to science from the experience, but in the end the scientific contribution is like most research questions...it will be a contribution, cited a few times and then be subsumed in 10-20 years by more advance work and will not be heard of again.  

      In contrast the less lauded process of inventorying and monitoring bees (or any other natural history group for that matter) is something that retains its value over time and, indeed, increases with age.  Information and specimens collected about any bee population anywhere on earth is a permanent contribution and will be cited over and over again until civilization itself disappears (or at least their interest in bees).  

      To illustrate this point I just want to show you a table of specimens collect by fifth graders at Sidwell Friend's School in Washington D.C.   I have worked with this group now for about 8 years and each year they enthusiastically do experiments with my help on various aspects of catching bees in bowls and a general inventory of their grounds.  This is incorporated into their classes and their collection of bees is something that gets highlighted to parents when tours are made of the school.  I have a learned a lot from them and some of their results contribute to how we use bowl traps these days.  They do their own pinning and labeling and I look over the specimens each year and they then enter the data into a spreadsheet and update their collection.  It takes only a few hours of my time.

      Below are screen shots at different scales of the school location:

      Here is a table of results, listed alphabetically along with the number of specimens captured.  They have captured  a nice diversity of 68 species and among those were a good number of new District of Columbia records.  Some specimens have been placed in the Smithsonian, others have been sent to researchers (Jason Gibbs used some of their specimens in his revisions of Lasioglossum) and it has given me a good feel for what bees occur in DC urban areas (not to neglect the contributions of several bee people who also trap in their backyards in this region).  

      Ultimately we will do a little publication of these results and their contribution will be locked into place.   In my mind this worked well not because these were special kids, but simply because there was a good partnership and enthusiasm between teachers (Margaret Pennock and Dave Wood) and someone who could ID their bees.   The work on my part was not onerous and, in fact, I haven't even visited their school, though I plan to do so this year.

      So, here you go, an interesting list of species, and a more replicatable, more valuable, less time consuming model for how to make a contribution to science with bees while working with kids.  


      P.S.  Despite being yeoman technicians we won't be putting their names on the subsequent paper!

      Sam Droege  sdroege@...                      
      w 301-497-5840 h 301-390-7759 fax 301-497-5624
      USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
      BARC-EAST, BLDG 308, RM 124 10300 Balt. Ave., Beltsville, MD  20705


      The chickens
      are circling and
      blotting out the
      day. The sun is
      bright, but the
      chickens are in
      the way. Yes,
      the sky is dark
      with chickens,
      dense with them.
      They turn and
      then they turn
      again. These
      are the chickens
      you let loose
      one at a time
      and small --
      various breeds.
      Now they have
      come home
      to roost -- all
      the same kind
      at the same speed.

      Kay Ryan
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