Campus Community / Science / Technology and Health

Grounds Department and Students Team Up to Study Campus Native Bee Habitat

Written by Dean Forbes

June 14, 2021

Native bee species on campus

A program to monitor native bees with the hope of creating a better pollinator environment on campus is underway with the help of students and championed by Grounds Manager Shannon Britton.

The impetus derived from Britton’s interest in a program jointly operated by Cascadia College and UW Bothell called the CCUWBee Research Initiative.

“I wanted to learn more about their native bee monitoring project as way of developing something like that on our campus for students to get involved in to support Grounds planning for more pollinator plantings,” says Britton. “I’m always looking for a way to involve students that benefit Grounds and act as an outdoor classroom. The native bee monitoring project is a good fit.”

Because this is the first year doing the study, Britton says she is focused on teaching basic research skills. Students are learning study protocol, recording data, identifying native bees and the plants they are on and the habitat they are in, taking photographs and engaging in habitat and environmental discussions about native bees on campus.

“I have always been interested in bees and wanted to find ways I could help. It was only when I started looking more into it that I realized how much we still have to learn about them,” says student Breann Kniffen, ’23.

There are approximately 4,000 native bee species in North America, 70 percent of which nest in the ground and are solitary and nearly 25 percent of them face the risk of extinction, says Kniffen.

“Yet there is still a noticeable lack of data regarding the abundance of bees and why they are declining so rapidly,” she says. “By participating in the bee monitoring program we can help make steps toward understanding what local bee populations look like and if there are trends in what areas best facilitate these crucial pollinators.”

Sarah Creighton, ’24, got involved in the project “because for many years I'd heard that the bees were disappearing, which worried me then and still does now. If I could do anything, no matter how small, to help figure out why bee populations are declining, I would be happy to volunteer my time.”

“I think that getting some quantifiable data on bee populations in an area I live at throughout the school year is very exciting and I am glad to be getting to know other students and grounds staff,” Creighton continues. “Though it is hard to draw many conclusions from the data we have gathered thus far, it is comforting to know that Seattle U’s Grounds is recognizing the problems with bee populations and trying to alleviate it.”

The data gathering process involves checking the weather forecast, scheduling a weekly monitoring session, determining the study space and time two 15-minute observation sessions. Students fill out the data sheet, operate the wind/temperature meter, observe, identify and record the native bees present, identify and record plants the bees are on, take photographs and upload data to the shared Google drive.

Monitoring will continue through the summer and into fall.

Britton says she hopes to raise awareness to the importance of native bees in our environment as pollinators that positively impact flora and fauna and growing food. The goals are to build a data base over time showing bloom and habitat gaps, where Grounds can consider planting flowering trees and shrubs, as well as develop nesting habitat to support native bee populations and ecological balance as much as possible in an urban environment. Connecting and comparing with other urban native bee studies in the Pacific Northwest would also be helpful.