Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation will welcome bumblebee ecologist Sarah Johnson for a presentation on bees April 24 as part of its Park Talk series.
Johnson is the lead biologist for Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Native Pollinator Initiative and a sessional instructor with Mount Royal University’s Environmental Science department.
“Alberta’s the second most diverse province in terms of bumblebees in Canada,” she said.
According to Johnson, 29 different species of bumblebees have been recorded in Alberta. Rocky View County (RVC) sees a high diversity, and Johnson estimates 15 to 20 different species could be found in the region.
“With our wide diversity of different habitat types, different ecosystems in Alberta, we get a bunch of different bumblebee species,” she said.
Among those species observed at Glenbow Ranch is the western bumblebee, a species potentially in decline. Johnson said it is unclear if there are issues with other species in Alberta.
“It can be hard to know what’s going on in populations without having that data on baseline levels, like how many individuals we should have in the province, how many we do have, how many we’ve had historically? So to be able to detect declines – especially slow declines over a number of years – can be really tough,” she said.
Johnson began a Citizen Science program focused on bumblebees at Glenbow Ranch last summer. A training workshop in July 2017 taught volunteers how to catch bumblebees in a net, put them in a vial and take pictures of identifying characteristics. Thirty-five volunteers then spent time in the park looking for bees from the middle of July to early September. Through the program, 13 different confirmed species of bumblebee were observed at Glenbow Ranch, with an additional four that were not confirmed.
“Programs like our Citizen Science programs at Glenbow Ranch are so important to get citizen scientists out to help us get an idea of where the populations are and be able to monitor how many bumblebees and what kind of species are in different places from year to year. Because there’s definitely not enough bumblebee researchers to keep track of all the different places in Alberta that bumblebees can live,” Johnson said.
Bumblebee decline is a serious problem, according to Johnson, because the insects are key pollinators that play an important role in maintaining ecosystems.
“Over 90 per cent of flowering plants need some sort of animal pollinator for it to reproduce,” she said.
Bumblebees are specially adapted to pollinate in our region, and Johnson said plants are critical to an ecosystem’s health.
“If we start to lose some of these species of bumblebees, then we’re not really sure how that might move through the rest of the ecosystem and affect different components that are closely related,” she said.
Johnson said her April 24 presentation will focus on bumblebee biology and life cycle, as well as the types of bees in region. She’ll also elaborate on bumblebee nesting ecology and present data taken from a nest box program conducted last year. The presentation starts at 6:30 p.m. at Cochrane’s Nan Boothby Library.
She is also excited to repeat the artificial nest box program this spring for a second year. She said there are two nest box events, April 19 and 28. Volunteers will help install 100 boxes around the park. Each box is designed for the nesting habits of different types of bees.
Johnson said the April 28 event is at capacity. The April 19 is weather dependent and may be rescheduled last minute.
For more information, visit natureconservancy.ca