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Summary and Suggestions for How Bee ID Contracts are Made

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  • Sam Droege
    All: This has been an interesting topic, quite a diversity of responses both on and off-line. I will try and summarize the situation, present some of the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 12 7:48 AM


      This has been an interesting topic, quite a diversity of responses both on and off-line.   I will try and summarize the situation, present some of the current ways of doing things and then present a set of suggestions at the end that would be included in the next update of the Handy Bee Manual.  Please feel free to comment and add suggestions.

      The Situation

      One European correspondent summarized it well:

      “ID to species level is a massive problem for pollination studies - in fact it is the single most important rate limiting step in such studies.”

      The same can be said for North America.  The problem is that:

      1.         The number of bee species is large (@4000 in North America north of Mexico)

      2.        Males and females are separate identification problems, effectively doubling  the kinds of things that need to be identified

      3.        The literature is scattered, incomplete, and difficult to obtain (it would be nice if someone developed a web site for the bee literature…)

      4.        Identification of bee species is often a subtle, comparative business

      5.        There are several hundred species which do not currently have names and a number of genera that are in a taxonomic muddle, in which identifications/species boundaries are unclear

      6.        There are only a handful of people who can identify any particular region’s bees…and almost all consult with various specialists to work out tricky problems

      7.        Many publications of bee work include identification errors

      8.        Identification of morphospecies by non-experts is almost always imperfect as the subtleties of what are and are not different species is missed

      9.        To do identifications completely there is a need for access to a large collection of bees with solid identifications to resolve specimens that don’t key well or seem to be outside their normal ranges

      On the positive side:

      1.         There are more people now involved in bee taxonomy and identification than in many years

      2.        Collecting, mapping, study, and interest in bees is increasing

      3.        The number of online resources and available information is increasing

      4.        Barcoding efforts are adding a lot to our ability to resolve tricky species groups

      The work of identifying bees is similar to that of any artist or tradesperson.  Many people can become somewhat proficient do-it-yourselfers or journeymen plumbers, painters, weavers, bee iders but to excel you have to combine passion, talent, and thousands of hours of just plain work.   In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers he makes the case that experts in any skill-based field are not genetic super heros…they simply did the hours of work necessary to become that way.  His rule is that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery.   So that’s the background, it’s just plain time-consuming to wrap anyone’s mind around the seemingly straightforward question of:  “What is the name of this bee?”

      So, doing identifications from the perspective of the experts:

      1.         Experts should be involved from the beginning of the project so they can both have input in the study design phase and, more importantly from their perspective, help design how insects will be pinned, processed, and labeled in a way that decreases those who are sponsoring the study’s time and helps decrease ID time.  We have all suffered from poorly prepped specimens.

      2.        Access and donation of some of the interesting and rare specimens to the expert’s associated museum or institute or for DNA barcoding should be on the table.

      3.        Joint publication of the results, if the amount of identification is significant, should be considered

      4.        Payment is something that will always be negotiable and most experts will work with students and amateurs for little to no money if the number of specimens are small and the work of the expert is minimized through good specimen preparation.  Otherwise, for those with budgets, recall that the work of an expert to achieve mastery is significant and if it were easy you would be doing it yourself, eh?

      From the perspective of the person needing to get their bees identified:

      1.         You can cut your costs by arranging and building in the identification component of the project at the beginning of the project, as mentioned above.

      2.        Pinning, labeling, sorting and storing your specimens are nontrivial details.  Given how easy it is to collect bees it turns out that the processing of specimens makes for the bulk of the time required for any project.  Diminishing that processing time and creating high quality specimens that are easy for your identifiers to use will save you time, expense, and result in fewer errors in the resulting dataset.  Additionally, good looking specimens are much more likely to be added to national and regional collections than ones in poor condition.

      3.        You can further cut costs by having a less expensive technician or grad student work with an expert to add determination labels, database specimens, sorting to morphospecies, and depending on their talents doing determinations for the “easy” species.

      4.        If you want to try your hand at your own determinations, then talk to your expert before hand about how to add nice determination labels (rather than large torn off pieces of paper) that won’t interfere with the flow of the expert’s work.

      Below are some of the ways in which different groups have set up payments for identifications.  Again, note that there is no right way and that as biologists and lovers of what we do….plenty of identifications will always be done for free for people who are passionate but poor.  It’s a negotiation.

      ·        $1000 to identify 10,000 bees

      ·        $25.00 per bee species id and $10.00 for morphospecies

      ·        Morphospecies on other groups of insects I charge $15-20.00/hr for work for graduate students

      ·        We now charge $75 per hour for academic/commercial identifications. This is the rate calculated to recover my salary/benefit costs per hour, plus the administrative costs
      associated with processing the associated paperwork.

      ·        $10 - $16 per hour rate for morpho species determinations

      ·        We contract out determinations at $2.10 per specimen. This cost is regardless of whether it is an easy or a difficult species to determine - it all comes out in the wash at the end. The deal is: University must provide properly prepared and fully labeled specimens. In return they get an identification to species level and the data entered into a database (provided by the University). In addition there will be a 10% sample that is rechecked to ensure QA. The University technician HAS to do the basic donkey-work so that identifiers do not waste their time relaxing/preparing/pinning specimens

      ·        The rest were sent to specialists. On average charging between $1.45 -2.90 per specimen (depending on who you went to).

      ·        Where possible we write in taxonomic services into monitoring or inventory contracts, but it is usually for a few thousand at most.


      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 Auk and the Orchid

      We seldom meet, when out to walk,
      Either the orchid or the auk;
      The auk indeed is only known
      To dwellers in the Auktic zone,
      While orchids can be found in legions,
      Within the equatorial regions.
      The graceful orchid on its stalk,
      Resembles so the awkward auk;
      'Tis plain we must some means discover,
      To tell the two from one another:
      The obvious difference, to be sure,
      Is merely one of temperature.
      For eskimos, perhaps the Auk
      Performs the duties of the stork.

              -- Robert Williams Wood


      P Bees are not optional.

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