California seeks volunteers to track imperiled bumble bees
New California Bumble Bee Atlas to support bumble bee conservation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts:

Leif Richardson, Conservation Biologist, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, (802) 793-6449; [email protected]

Rich Hatfield, Senior Conservation Biologist, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, (971) 303-9150; [email protected]

Hillary Sardiñas, Pollinator Coordinator, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, (916) 387-5148; [email protected]

SACRAMENTO, Calif.; Tuesday, March 15, 2022 – With pollinator populations declining and facing increasing threats, a new initiative launched today to better understand and protect California’s imperiled bumble bees. Spearheaded by a partnership between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the new California Bumble Bee Atlas will enlist the assistance of trained volunteers to collect information around the state on bumble bee species diversity and habitat use. 

California is home to 25 species of bumble bees, including both widespread, common species and some restricted to specific habitat types. A quarter of these species now face extinction and the current distributions of many of the others are poorly understood. 

“A key goal of the California Bumble Bee Atlas is to better understand where bumble bee species are thriving and what resources they’re using. This will help us understand what actions California can take to conserve our remaining bumble bee populations,” said Leif Richardson, Conservation Biologist at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and lead for the California Atlas project.

The partners will train volunteer community scientists to collect critical information on bumble bees. Volunteers will adopt priority survey areas, sampling each multiple times over the growing season with a particular focus on gathering information on the state’s six bumble bee species of greatest conservation need.

“Surveying insect populations across a state as large and geographically varied as California is a massive challenge, so we’ll need a large team of trained volunteers equipped with nets and cameras to successfully complete the project,” said Rich Hatfield, a Senior Conservation Biologist at the Xerces Society who oversees the organization’s other Bumble Bee Atlas projects across multiple states. 

In recent years, pollinators have gained increasing attention for their essential role in keeping natural areas healthy and contributing to successful harvests on farms, as bee populations suffered widespread losses. 

While much of this attention has been given to introduced western honey bees, there has been a parallel decline of populations of native, wild bees driven by the combined threats of climate change, habitat loss, pathogens, and pesticide exposure.

“Bumble bees are critically important pollinators in both agricultural and natural ecosystems. While we know there have been recent declines, the extent in California remains largely unknown. This project offers volunteer community scientists the opportunity to fill this gap and help us develop a strategy to better conserve pollinators,” said Scott Gardner, Wildlife Branch Chief with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“California is committed to conserving all wildlife species, including pollinators. We cannot be successful without the thousands of amazing volunteers that are helping us collect this data,” added Gardner. 

While this project will collect information about all of California’s native bumble bees, there are several species whose population declines are of particular concern. Six bumble bees are considered Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the state; these include western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis), Morrison bumble bee (Bombus morrisoni), Crotch’s bumble bee (Bombus crotchii), obscure bumble bee (Bombus caliginosus), Suckley cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus suckleyi), and Franklin bumble bee (Bombus franklini). The latter species was recently listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and several others on this list are under consideration for similar protections.

The California Bumble Bee Atlas will make use of the platform Bumble Bee Watch to collect data, which has gathered and identified over 72,000 observations of bumble bees made by volunteers from across North America since it started in 2013. The project also builds on the success of Bumble Bee Atlas programs in the Pacific Northwest and Great Plains.

“We and our conservation partners across California are enthused by the amazing turnout of volunteers in other regions to gather data on bumble bees,” said Hillary Sardiñas, Pollinator Coordinator for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. We look forward to data generated by the California Bumble Bee Atlas and the lasting effects it will have on pollinator conservation.”

To help launch the project there will be several community science volunteer training events March-May, 2022. The events will introduce community scientist volunteers to California’s diverse bumble bee community, and will provide them training in project survey methods. 

The project is supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program through a competitive State Wildlife Grant, the Bureau of Land Management, several anonymous donors, and Xerces Society members. 

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For more information about the California Bumble Bee Atlas project or to get involved, please visit https://www.cabumblebeeatlas.org 

For more information about Bumble Bee Watch, please visit https://www.bumblebeewatch.org/ 

For more information about bumble bee conservation, please visit https://xerces.org/bumblebees/ 

About the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation protects the natural world by conserving invertebrates and their habitat. Established in 1971, the Society is a trusted source for science-based information and advice and plays a leading role in protecting pollinators and many other invertebrates. Our team draws together experts from the fields of habitat restoration, entomology, plant ecology, education, community engagement, pesticides, farming and conservation biology with a single passion: Protecting the life that sustains us. To learn more, visit xerces.org or follow us @xercessociety on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

About the California Department of Fish and Wildlife

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is California’s primary state agency tasked with preserving, protecting, and perpetuating fish and wildlife and ecosystems, while providing sustainable fishing and hunting opportunities.

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