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Southwest Michigan Bee Watch is asking for help tracking bumblebees

Close-up picture of a sign in a garden explaining about the bee watch project. There are wildflowers in the background.
Sehvilla Mann
Sign in a garden on Oak Street in Kalamazoo about the Southwest Michigan Bee Watch project

Professors and students at Kalamazoo College have started a project to help conserve bumblebees.

The Southwest Michigan Bee Watch is a community science project based at Kalamazoo College. Its goal is to track bumblebee species in the region, through crowd-sourced data-gathering.

K student Lizzy Silber says it’s simple to get involved. Volunteers take pictures of bees and then share them with the researchers through a free app called iNaturalist or byvisiting the iNaturalist website.

“It’s as easy as 1-2-3 bee. So download the app, upload a photo of a bumblebee that you’ve seen. And then if you’re confident you can suggest an ID”, said Silber.

A Southwest Michigan Bee Project dashboard on the iNaturalist website shows the types and numbers of bumblebees that have been posted in Southwest Michigan.

Silber, who is helping to identify the bees in the uploaded photos, said it’s important to know which bumblebees are populating which areas. She added that about a third of the 20 bumblebee species presently found in Michigan have “special concern” status due to a major drop in their numbers.

“Species decline is not something we should take lightly. Especially in today’s climate, with climate change, just impacting the world more and more”, Silber said.

Anyone of any age can be a part of this project, even if they are not well versed in identifying bees. Silber said increasing the numbers of bumblebee sightings in Kalamazoo and the surrounding areas is important to get a better picture, especially in areas the Bee Watch doesn't have access to such as private land.

“This is a great way to get involved with the community. And overall, just engagement in general will help with conservation efforts in the future," she said.