Top five highlights of the bumble bee season


After a conservation team completes its field season, it is importance to reflect on what went well, and what were some accomplishments worth celebrating. WPC’s Bumble Bee Recovery Program had a great team this year! With hard work and dedication, we had both a successful spring monitoring season and conservation breeding program. Additionally, despite the pandemic affecting most of our typical outreach events, we were still able reach a wide audience. Let’s look at some highlights.

1.  WPC’s new specially-designed Bumble Bee Conservation Lab

We created and established a Bumble Bee Conservation Lab at African Lion Safari, just outside of Hamilton, ON. We have been able to collaborate with several organizations in the past, but this is the first year we’ve had our own proper dedicated space, with WPC staff members dedicated to maintaining and caring for the colonies full-time. We were closely monitoring our colonies and the lab environment from May to mid-October. We took detailed notes on our colonies, including the number of eggs, workers, males, and gynes (“new queens”) they produced and how much food they ate. We also ran mating trials between August and October, and now are currently overwintering gynes. The team was excited to witness how successful the new lab is for breeding bumbles.

For more information on WPC’s Native Pollinator Initiative’s mating and overwintering methods, please refer to the November 2021 blog “Beyond workers: mating and overwintering bumble bees”.

WPC’s Native Pollinator Initiative Lead Biologist, Sarah Mackell, with the newly installed bumble bee conservatino lab trailer. Photo: E Sills

Conservation colony of brown-belted bumble bees (Bombus grisecollis). Photo: T. Harrison

2. Successful production of brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis) workers, males and gynes

We bred colonies of three common species: the common eastern bumble bee (B. impatiens), the tricoloured bumble bee (B. ternarius), and the brown-belted bumble bee (B. griseocollis). We’ve attempted to breed  brown-belted bumble bees in the past, and until this year, we had not had any success. This year we were very successful however, with a total of 114 workers, ~80 gynes, and 158 males being produced collectively from our 20 collected wild queens. This was a huge achievement!  We have learned from this successful experience and next year we will return to breeding the at-risk yellow-banded bumble bee (B. terricola).

For more information on the new lab and breeding results, please refer to the August 2021 blog “What’s the buzz at WPC’s Bumble Bee Conservation Lab?”

3. Celebrating the sixth year of our bumble bee community scient monitoring program at Pinery Provincial Park

Pinery Provincial Park, on the shore of Lake Huron, ON, is the last known location of both the rusty-patched bumble bee (B. affinis) and gypsy cuckoo bumble bee (B. bohemicus), which haven’t been observed in Canada since 2009. In 2015, we piloted our bumble bee community science program at Pinery. The program runs from summer into early fall, with volunteers conducting surveys at sites within the Park. Despite the pandemic, our program was still able to run for its sixth year, thanks to our dedicated volunteers.  Volunteers surveyed 17 sites, observed 7 different bumble bee species, and uploaded 692 observations to the online platform, Bumble Bee Watch. Volunteers recorded one at-risk bumble bee species, the American bumble bee (B. pensylvanicus); and also one rare species, the lemon-cuckoo bumble bee (B. citrinus). We’re excited about another year of invaluable data to help support bumble bee conservation.

Two dedicated volunteers from the community science bumble bee monitoring program at Pinery Provincial Park. Left, Sarah Litterick conducting a monitoring survey. Photo: T. Miller. At right, Trish Miller photographing a bumble bee for identifications. Photo: S. Litterick

4. Exploring new paths in education and outreach

More people than ever are aware of the importance of native pollinators, want to know more about them and how to help them. We have been taking the opportunity to educate and inform using different platforms to reach a wide-range of people. Due to the pandemic, we were challenged to make this happen in ways beyond our traditional in-person approaches. However, this year we lead and hosted several workshops and webinars, participated in media outlets like podcast interviews and social media live streams, and had several particles published about the program. In these ways, we were able to reach over 7,000 people.

WPC’s Native Pollinator Initiative Lead Biologist, Sarah Mackell, participating in a Toronto Zoo live stream for World Bee Day. Photo: J. Spero

Some of our most exciting communication opportunities this year:

5. Great field finds!

Although we focussed narrowly on Southern Ontario during surveys, we recorded 14 different species of bumble bees. This is the highest number of species recorded by our Southern Ontario team during the spring season. One species that we observed for the first time in the area is the Fernald cuckoo bumble bee (B. flavidus). We also observed the most American bumble bee (B. pensylvanicus) queens in a single spring field season this year (6), which was exciting as this species is listed as Special Concern. Another neat find this field season was our earliest record of a bumble bee worker, and the first ever record of a male of any species during our spring field season. These early workers and males were likely due to the early spring we had, a great example of how bee population dynamics can vary so greatly due to weather.

WPC’s Bumble Bee Recovery Team had a successful 2021 that is  worth raving about! We’re looking forward to what 2022 holds for our program.

American bumble bee (B. pensylvanicus) on autumn olive. Photo: T. Harrison

Tiffani Harrison

Conservation Outreach and Field Biologist – Native Pollinator Initiative

Tiffani joined WPC as a bumble bee conservation field technician in 2017 and fell in love with the work. Since then, she has worked a variety of roles leading monitoring surveys, research projects, and community outreach both in Ontario and Alberta. Currently she manages the field work and outreach components of the Bumble Bee Recovery Program. Tiffani completed her MEnvSc in Conservation and Biodiversity at the University of Toronto and comes from a background of ecology and conservation biology.

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