By Stephanie Maher
About a year ago, I wrote an article for this blog about ‘The Solitary Bee Project’, a citizen science endeavour I had recently launched as part of my PhD research. The primary aim of this project was to compile a dataset of the nest site locations of four solitary bee species and gather some information about where these bees chose to nest. When I was writing the first blog, the project had been running for a couple of months and was starting to gain some momentum. A year on, I can say that not only was significant momentum gained, the project sort of ran away with itself! More than four hundred records were submitted to the website and the enthusiasm of the public for solitary bees was strikingly apparent in the many emails, letters and tweets the project received.
Solitary bees, and particularly their homes, have been rather neglected in the research literature over recent years due to the logistical difficulties associated with doing this kind of work. What this project has shown is that citizen science approaches have the potential to help overcome these barriers. The public have demonstrated that they are keen to protect and learn about solitary bees and they are capable of finding nest sites. By monitoring the submitted records, I was able to identify and visit thirty active nesting sites over the course of the year.
From these visits I took a whole host of measurements to try and better understand why solitary bees nest where they do and what makes a good nest site. As one scientist working alone, this partnership with the public was invaluable and allowed me to carry out an analysis I could not have achieved otherwise.
There is still much that we don’t know about solitary bee nest sites, not just in terms of the habitat structure, but a plethora of unanswered questions spring to mind; about nesting behaviour, parasitic species, the relationship between nest sites and foraging resources, how to provide suitable nest sites and much more.
Now that ‘The Solitary Bee Project’ has ended, I am looking ahead and am optimistic that the future of solitary bee nesting research is bright. There are scientists and citizens around the world who care about these questions and are doing their part to answer them. I am hopeful that soon, whether bees are discussed in conference rooms or coffee shops, the importance of understanding, protecting and providing their homes will be part of the conversation, just as much as their food requirements are. Until then though, I’ve got plenty more work to do!
Stephanie Maher (@SolitaryBeesUK) graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 2011 with a degree in Zoology. She is currently a PhD candidate at Anglia Ruskin University, UK.