Forest Park Is Abuzz!

On one of the hottest days of the year, nine citizen scientists gather in the Dennis and Judith Jones Visitor and Education Center, slathered in sunscreen and toting water bottles that sweat in the morning temperatures that are already reaching 100 degrees. 

These nine volunteers, ranging in age from elementary school to retirement, have agreed to participate in the St. Louis Bee Blitz, a project created and facilitated by Webster University professor Nicole Miller-Stuttmann.

Miller-Struttmann started the Bee Blitz in 2017 in response to a growing interest from people about what they could do to help the bee population. “People are always coming to ask what they can do to help–farmers ask, people with gardens ask, people with balconies ask,” she says. “It just seems that there was a lot of excitement.”

The Bee Blitz trains the volunteers on how to take bee photos with their phones, and then they work in teams to conduct photo surveys in the field. 

Volunteers Colleen Crank, Abi Gorline, and Steve Gorline attended the first Bee Blitz earlier in the summer, so they are able to head directly into the field while the others are training.

Crank explains that she’s actually more of a bird person but participates because she likes being outside and is interested in citizen science. “I think there’s a lot more wildlife in urban areas than people realize,” she says. 

Abi Gorline, who is homeschooled and preparing for her senior year, loves ecology and bees specifically. “Life keeps throwing bee stuff at me,” she says. “It’s a little weird.” She explains that she participates in a lab at Maryville University that looks at how well plants are being pollinated, and she just finished teaching a course on bees for 4-H.

“She gets me into everything,” laughs Steve Gorline, Abi’s father. “I really like nature; I hike and am outside all the time so that’s probably where she got this,” he says.

Crank and the Gorlines have committed themselves to participate in all four of the Bee Blitz events for this summer. Even on this hot day in July.  

At Deer Lake Savanna, the first field location of the day, the three seasoned volunteers knowingly head into the habitat and mark a 5x5 meter square with their string and piping contraption provided by Miller-Struttmann.

They start their timers, and they wait. When a bee lands in their square, they photograph it. They continue this for ten minutes before moving to a new location to collect data.

The photograph data are compared to netting data that is collected by her team. “There are preliminary results that suggests we get an accurate measure of diversity, but some of the rare species switch off. So they might find a rare species that is different from what we find with netting and vice versa. Part of that just happens probably because they are rare,” she Miller-Struttmann.  

Most of Miller-Struttmann’s work takes place in Forest Park because they are trying to “ground-truth the method.” 

And there are a lot of bumble bees. Of the six native Missouri bumblebees, five have been recorded in the Park over the last three years through the Bee Blitz.

This is not by coincidence; Forest Park Forever’s Nature Reserve team and volunteers continually work to increase the native habitats that are here. Amy Witt, Park Ecologist for Forest Park Forever, explains that because of the bee’s life cycle it’s important to have “a diversity of flora.” She adds, “In particular, we’re trying to make sure that we have plants that are above ground, living, and hopefully flowering throughout a wide range of the year.”  

Early spring is one of the harshest times for wildlife to try to find food, and it’s also the time of year the queen is building her colony for the upcoming summer, so ensuring there is a food source for this time of year is especially important in the bumble bee’s lifecycle.

Urban areas are surprisingly supportive of bees. “We have a lot of gardens, a lot of weeds in empty lots that aren't mowed, and where pesticides aren’t sprayed,” says Miller-Struttmann.  

Miller-Struttmann hopes that the Bee Blitz will encourage participants to continue collecting data and submitting their findings in the iNaturalist app. “We need a lot of data to understand what is going on, and it's hard for us to be out getting all of it at one time, at one location or multiple locations. We just can’t without extra hands,” she says.

There is one more Bee Blitz in Forest Park on September 14. Sign up below to participate!

Nature, VolunteersJen Roberts