Starting a citizen science project on a shoestring budget: the Australian Wild Pollinator Count

Some years ago, I had a bright idea. I’d just finished my PhD researching communities of wild pollinators and other beneficial insects in Australian orchards. During that time I’d discovered that lots of people (scientists and non-scientists) thought that European honey bees were the main, if not only, pollinator in Australia.

Most people I spoke to about my work were amazed to learn that we had 1800+ species of Australian native bees, let alone the thousands of other insect species that also pollinate flowers.

I approached my friend Karen Retra, a local bee enthusiast, with a simple plan. Why not try and raise awareness of the forgotten pollinators by getting people outside in their backyard to look for insects? With the myriad of free online tools available, I thought it would be pretty easy to run a regular insect count that anyone could get involved in, just like the UK’s famous Big Butterfly Count or the Aussie Bird Count.

So we started the Wild Pollinator Count, an Australian citizen science project focused on pollinator insects. It runs in the second full week of April and November every year. The idea of this was so that regular contributors have the opportunity to notice differences in their local pollinator communities as the seasons change. Contribution is easy: find a flowering plant during the count week, watch some flowers for 10 minutes and record what you see, enter the data via our submission form. Continue reading

Single-crop farming is leaving wildlife with nowhere to turn

Rolling plains of wheat, endless fields of flowering canola, row upon row of fruit trees: these agricultural landscapes are the stuff of stunning photographs.

Filling these paddocks with just one crop, known as monoculture, is a relatively easy, common and efficient way to produce food and fibre.

But international research shows that these monocultures can be bad for the environment and production through effects on soil quality, erosion, plants and animals, and ultimately declining crop yields. Research I have published this week in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability shows a possible link between monoculture landscapes and fewer wild pollinators.

Is there a better way to grow our food?

Published today at The Conversation. Read the rest of the story here….

Wild pollinator count

Last spring,with the help of Karen Retra, a local permaculture teacher and native bee naturalist, I trialled a wild pollinator count citizen science event. It started off as an experiment – both of us were passionate about wild pollinators and keen to encourage people to think outside the ‘pollinators are just bees’ box. So we organised a week-long ‘wild pollinator count’ for residents in our region (southern New South Wales and north-east Victoria).

The inspiration came from similar counts overseas, like the UK’s Big Butterfly Count and USA’s Great Sunflower Project. There was an opportunity to create a similar event here, and this style of citizen science is a great way to engage people beyond the ‘active’ amateur naturalists and science fans. Time-and-Place events, like local bioblitzes or museum-based events, may not connect with everyone who is interested if they don’t have time or money to attend. In contrast, backyard citizen science has the potential to engage more people, as it allows people to participate in their own time. Continue reading

Why did the pollinator cross the road?

The concept of the ‘edge effect’ has inspired long and varied discussion in the ecological literature. In essence, an edge effect is a change in animal or plant communities seen at a boundary between two types of habitat.

These changes are most obvious in plant communities, for example where a swamp segues into a savannah. So, historically, research into edge effects and ecotones (the zone surrounding the edge where two plant communities meet, and energy fluxes and dynamics change) was mostly focused on plants.

It wasn’t until the mid-1900s that people started considering how edges affected animals. Vegetation ecologists had already discovered that the zone surrounding habitat edges usually had more plant species than either of the two patches that met at the edge.

Then in 1930 Aldo Leopold noticed that game animals, like deer, were often found more frequently at forest edges than in the interior. These animals loitered at edges, where they could feed on all the extra plants and see danger coming more easily. And so the misconception arose that edges = more animals. Continue reading

Plastic Bees

There has been a flurry of excitement in the media over a recently-published observational study describing the “behavioural flexibility and adaptation” of solitary bees to our “plastic-rich environments”. In a nutshell, during the course of a larger field study looking at wild bees in urban landscapes, researchers in Toronto discovered that some urban Megachile bee species in the city had lined their nest cells with plastic materials. Continue reading