The Vermont Bee Survey (VTBees) represents the first steps towards understanding the status and biogeography of these key elements of Vermont’s natural heritage. The survey’s main objectives are to:
- Obtain a baseline of bee distribution at the beginning of this century for comparison to historic and future data.
- Curate and share all historic and current bee records from Vermont in an open data portal via the Vermont Atlas of Life (VAL) and the Global Biodiversity Information Infrastructure (GBIF).
- Assess the conservation status and needs of Vermont bee species.
- Identify habitats of statewide and regional importance.
- Educate and involve more people in the discovery and protection of Vermont’s natural heritage.
The survey is closely modeled after the recently completed Vermont Butterfly Survey and the Vermont Bumble Bee Atlas, which spawned a passionate network of volunteer citizen scientists, a valuable baseline, and a conservation concept for some pollinators in the state. Our results will allow direct comparisons among states, with scientific and conservation implications extending throughout the Northeast and beyond. In short, this project offers the opportunity for individuals, either professional or amateur, to make a significant contribution to the greater understanding Vermont’s natural heritage and these important pollinators that we rely upon.
Most studies have focused on bumble bees (Bombus) and there is evidence of bumble bee declines worldwide, including in China, Europe, and North and South America (Williams and Osborne 2009; Williams et al. 2009; Cameron et al. 2011; Colla et al. 2012; Nieto et al. 2014; Schmid- Hempel et al. 2014; Goulson et al. 2015). Several studies have documented declines of North American bumble bee species (Grixti et al. 2009; Cameron et al. 2011; Colla et al. 2012; Bartomeus et al. 2013; Richardson et al. 2018), and a recent assessment by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature found that 26% are vulnerable or endangered, with an additional 20% found to be ‘data deficient’ (IUCN 2017). Members of the bumble bee subgenera Bombus sensu stricto and Psithyrus are particularly threatened, with endangered status protection for some in the U.S. and Canada (Colla 2016; Inouye et al. 2017; Arbetman et al. 2017).
We completed the Vermont Bumble Bee Atlas, a project of VCE’s Vermont Atlas of Life, from 2012 to 2014 with help from over 50 trained citizen scientists (Richardson et al. 2018). We searched the entire state, amassing a database exceeding 10,000 bumble bee records from all of Vermont’s counties and biophysical regions, and 81% of the state’s 255 municipalities. To compare current bumble bee diversity and distribution in Vermont to historic records, we assembled a database of nearly 2,000 bumble bee records, some from as early as 1915, from 13 public and private insect collections.
Of 17 bumble bee species known from Vermont, four were not detected at all and four showed significant declines (Richardson et al. 2018). Declining species broadly accorded with those reported elsewhere in eastern North America, and included those in subgenera Bombus, Fervidobombus, and Psithyrus. Three species were listed as Threatened or Endangered in Vermont and one was listed Federally as a result of our work (McFarland et al. 2014abc). While we cannot pinpoint what may have caused these sudden bumble bee population declines, habitat loss, pathogens and parasites, pesticides, and climate change have all been implicated by recent bee studies in North America.
But not all bumble bees have fared poorly. We found that the five species that increased the most belonged to the dominant subgenus in North America called Pyrobombus, which is relatively stable or increasing in other areas of the continent as well. The Common Eastern Bumble Bee appears to be expanding its range, possibly in part due to transport of managed colonies for crop pollination.
Bumble bees may not be representative of the 47 other known bee genera in northeastern North America. Although we estimate there are more than 265 species of bees in Vermont (J. Ascher, unpublished), there has never been a comprehensive survey. There is evidence that some of Vermont’s native bee species are declining across their ranges (Bartomeus et al. 2013), but without an inventory of the state’s bee fauna, it is very difficult to know how Vermont’s native bee species are faring. This is alarming given that recent research in the region is finding just how important native bees are to agriculture in the region. For example, scientists at UVM associated with the VTBees project demonstrated that more than 90 species of wild bees visit highbush blueberry flowers on Vermont farms, contributing thousands of dollars of value to the state’s agricultural economy (Nicholson and Ricketts 2019). And nearby in New York, Cornell scientists recently found that native bee diversity is key to better apple production (Grab et al. 2019).