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Volunteers count bees in Oregon

Photos courtesy of Oregon State University A rare cactus bee, one of many specimens tracked in Oregon by Master Melittologists
BEE FIND: This is a rare cactus bee, one of many specimens tracked by volunteers who have taken an in-depth training course to help catalog the bees of Oregon.
State pioneers program that trains “community scientists” to catalog native bee population.

Taking on the challenge of cataloging any species is big work. Now, consider the issues with finding native bees. In Oregon, a pioneering approach was used to form a Master Melittologist program.

A melittologist is an entomologist who specializes in the study of bees. That Master Melittologist program is patterned after the Oregon State University Master Gardner program. The Master Melittologist program intensively trains volunteers on locating and cataloging the bees no one has seen before. While Oregon is known for honeybees that pollinate foods, the state is also home to 600 native bees, and many of them serve as pollinators, too.

Andony Melathopoulos is an OSU Extension pollinator health specialist, and he notes that the 600 number isn't precise because no one has ever done a complete inventory of which bees the state calls home.

"This is troublesome because there have been emerging reports that some bee species across the world are experiencing a decline. Without an inventory, it is impossible to know whether bees in Oregon are having trouble or whether their populations remain stable," he says.

Volunteer Master Melittologists, experts in bees, are at work cataloging their finds as they scout native bees in Oregon

MASTERS AT WORK: Volunteer Master Melittologists, experts in bees, are at work cataloging their finds as they scout native bees. Oregon is the only state with a Master Melittologist program.

The Master Melittologist program works with the Oregon Bee Atlas, which is responsible for surveying the state's native bee population with OSU Extension Service, OSU colleges of agriculture and forestry, and the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

This is the first year for the Master Melittologist program, but volunteers have been a driving force for the Bee Atlas since 2018. During the past three years, the volunteers have contributed 70,000 new bee records from every county in the state. The work includes finding rare species, including a new metallic sweat bee from the Aldford Desert, a wool carder bee that was found nesting in the sand dunes around Newport and, in Ashland, the first recording in the state of the squash bee.

Earning the title

It takes a year of rigorous training to become a Master Melittologist. The course includes six online, self-paced modules covering everything from bee biology, preparing bee collections and planning a bee survey trip. Training also includes a day in the field and a day on microscopes with instructors.

Once they complete training, participants become an apprentice level Master Melittologist, the first of a three-level program After more intensive study of different bee groups, participants can move up if they want to dive even more deeply into the world of bees.

Mark Gorman, a volunteer Master Melittologist in Portland, notes that the program can be taken to any level a person chooses. "The core structure includes bee biology and natural history along with fieldwork, identification techniques and community outreach. But people can go further and do deep dives in specimen collecting, taxonomy, botany, natural history and other topics."

Volunteers are finding bees in some unexpected spaces, including a tiny 2.5-millimeter cuckoo bee found next to a driveway in Burns.

Leaders of the Master Melittologist program are hoping it will become a model for other states and Canadian provinces in the Pacific Northwest. Volunteers can sign up on the Master Melittologist website.  

Source: Oregon State University. The source is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.


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