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Utilizing citizen science in bumble bee conservation

Utilizing citizen science in bumble bee conservation

How can ordinary citizens contribute to a better understanding of the challenges facing North American bumble bees? This is the question that FES PhD student Victoria MacPhail has been exploring through her ongoing research on understanding the value of citizen science in solving environmental issues.

Following the completion of a BSc Honours degree in Biology at the University of Prince Edward Island and an MSc in Environmental Biology at the University of Guelph, Victoria enrolled in a PhD in Environmental Studies at York University. Her PhD dissertation is seeking to understand the decline of native bumble bee pollinators in Canada using citizen science data. Working closely with her PhD advisor, Dr. Shelia Colla, Victoria is examining the effectiveness of using volunteer data inputs to facilitate expert-conducted environmental science.

Victoria is accomplishing her research goals by using the Bumble Bee Watch program as a case study. In the growing field of citizen science, volunteers gather and submit data which can collectively cover much larger areas and time periods than may otherwise be possible for a research team. Bumble Bee Watch sees over 8300 participants contributing photos to a virtual collection, in turn helping researchers determine the status and conservation needs of bumble bees. This can have positive outcomes for conservation efforts with knowledge gaps being addressed and awareness being raised.

Bumble Bee Watch participants submit photos of bumble bees from across North America through a website or app and assign a tentative ID to their bee, which is then verified by regional experts like Victoria. “I am interested in seeing how this program can fill knowledge gaps, increase conservation status assessments, recommend recovery actions, and influence policy for conservation actions, as well as its impact on participants,” Victoria explained.

A recent recipient of an NSERC scholarship, Victoria continues to explore pollinator decline and the role of citizen science in conservation as she approaches the completion of her doctoral candidacy.