Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Douglas College pollinator study looks at bees in the garden

                                                                 Mikki Herbold Photo
A new Douglas College study on pollinators is looking into what’s buzzing in local gardens.

The college’s UNIBUG (User Network for Insect Biology in the Urban Garden) team is working with community volunteers on the research.

For the study, the volunteers will place small, homemade bee houses in their gardens to attract the insects.

The volunteers will then periodically monitor the bee activity, from spring to fall, and report their findings.

“I think it’s inherently valuable to look into this,” says Veronica Wahl, UNIBUG Coordinator. 

“Pollinators are really important. We depend on them for our flowers. We depend on them for our food.”

“This project is about contributing to our knowledge of what the wild bee populations are like around this region. There are a lot of things we don’t know.”

The study isn’t looking at the common honey bee. Instead, the focus is on a variety of solitary bees known as leaf cutter and mason bees.

“They don’t make honey. They almost never sting people. In nature they nest in hollow stalks,” Wahl says.

The researchers are able to take advantage of that preference for laying eggs in hollow stalks to attract the bees.

The bee houses volunteers place in their gardens will be filled with clusters of paper tubes. The idea is to simulate the kind of nesting spots the bees seek in nature.

“To the bees, this looks like a hollow stalk and so they use the tubes to lay their eggs inside,” Wahl says.

While bees are the focus, the UNIBUG team will also study what other pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies are up to in gardens.

The pollinator research adds to UNIBUG’s existing work investigating how predatory and parasitic insects can control garden pests.

For those who want to learn more about the project, the 3rd-annual UNIBUG forum takes place on Saturday, March 29.

The free, public event is being held in room 2201 on the Douglas College New Westminster campus from 10am-12pm.