In order to secure the future of crops including cranberries, blueberries and tomatoes amid concerns on the declining population of bees, Mainers are urged to participate as so-called "citizen scientists" to take census and study the winged pollinators.

The census, called the Maine Bumblebee Atlas, has about $50,000 in budget with the state utilizing social media, its website, newspaper announcements and press releases to recruit volunteers.

The efforts have been very successful 106 volunteers have already been signed up and another 150 are in queue, according to biologist Beth Swartz, from the state's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Volunteers including teachers, students, bankers and retired paper mill workers  gather observational data about bumblebees and these insect's habitats while a specialist determines the specimens that they have collected.

Maine's census particularly focused on bumblebees with the state known to have 17 native species of bumblebees, four of which became rarely observed since the 1990's. Data on the status of the 13, on the other hand, are poor and officials said that a survey could better provide a better assessment of these insects' population, abundance and range.

Swartz said that engaging the public to gather data about the bees, considered to be the key pollinators of wildflowers and a number of the most important crops in the state, is one step towards conserving the insects.

 "People are interested in the plight of the bees; bumblebees are interesting and charismatic," Swartz said. "Some of their work will give us quantitative data; we'll be able to tell if that particularly species is declining or increasing."

Bees play a crucial role in agriculture as pollinators. The bumblebees' status has caused concerns because of their declining population and scientists say that this has something to do with the warming weather.

Insect ecology professor Frank Drummond, from the University of Maine, said that the bumblebees in the states appear to have been impacted by climate change.

The number of spring days that the insects can visit and pollinate plants such as blueberries, for instance, has been greatly reduced since the early 1990's due to increased rain.

Besides climate change, other factors that could accelerate the death of bees include pesticides, parasites and poor nutrition due to lack of diversity in the sources of nectar and pollen.

The Maine Bumblebee Atlas is just one of an increasing number of citizen science efforts across U.S. that aim to motivate the public to collect data about the pollinators. 

Photo: Jorick Homan | Flickr 

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