Celebrating National Citizen Science Day with the Oregon Bee Atlas!

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The opening monologue of each Star Trek episode announces a space mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and to boldly go where no one has gone before. But in Oregon, there is a whole universe of strange new bees in each County that few, if anyone has seen. And if someone saw these bees it's likely that it was over 50 years ago.

Enter the Oregon Bee Atlas. The Oregon Bee Atlas' four year mission is to train volunteers across the state to survey their County for native bees, curate the specimens so they can be deposited into museum collections (particularly our State collection - the Oregon State Arthropod Collection) and start the difficult task identifying the bees to species. The project includes day-long training within Counties and an annual five day Bee School, where volunteers learn how to identify bees from the Project's Lead Taxonomist Lincoln Best. 

Unlike many native bee citizen science initiatives that focus on collecting records of bees and leaving their curation and identification to expert taxonomists, Oregon Bee Atlas looks to develop amateur taxonomist across the state to reduce the burden on the experts.  The goal is to jump-start our survey of Oregon bees and to quicken the identification of bees, so we can not only document the diversity of bees in the state, but also track their growth or decline. Currently there are over 120 volunteers participating in the Atlas in twelve locations around Oregon. 

Oregon State University's Pollinator Health Specialist Andony Melathopoulos has been excited by the progress of the Atlas since it was started this winter. "We have some remarkable people in Oregon who are keen to learn and grow their knowledge of native bee biodiversity". He notes that over the course of the winter he has encountered many people who were already busy learning about bees and were excited to be linked up into a broader initiative.

 Oregon Bee Atlas volunteer Debi Brimacombe holding an education display of Common Bees of Columbia County.

Oregon Bee Atlas volunteer Debi Brimacombe holding an education display of Common Bees of Columbia County.

In addition to building their skills in identifying native bees, volunteers will be assisting with new survey initiatives, including the newly announced Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas led by the Xerces Society, as well as targeted surveys for species with few or no records in Oregon. 

The Oregon Bee Atlas is funded by a generous grant from the Pollinator Health Fund (Foundation for Food and Agriculture), with the support of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, GloryBee and Central Oregon Seeds. The project leads are Sarah Kincaid from the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Andony Melathopoulos from OSU and Dr. Chris Marshall from the Oregon State Arthropod Collection, who will assist by building an online publicly-accessible Atlas to allow people to visualize where museum specimens originate from. 

For more information visit the Oregon Bee Atlas website

PolliNation podcasts on Citizen Science for pollinators: