New NSF grant for bee collection

Pinned bee from collection.
A lateral view of the Leaf-Cutter bee Anthidiellum notatum, imaged by undergraduate student Madeline Shaw as part of the habitus suite of images documenting its body form. The hairy underside of the abdomen is unique for this family of insects because that is where they store their pollen for transport, unlike the legs in honey bees.

The Biodiversity Research Collections, with Katrina Menard in the lead, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant to digitize it’s bee collection as part of an effort to track the effects of climate change in this enigmatic group of pollinators. The University of Connecticut collection is particularly important as one of the largest collections of New England bees, and by making these data available to researchers and the public through digitization and imaging, we hope to better understand how climate change affects the distribution and diversity of this group of insects on a regional and global scale. 

The grant is awarded as part of a collaborative research entitled: Digitization TCN: iDigBees network, towards complete digitization of US bee collections to promote ecological and evolutionary research in a keystone clade.

The funding will be for four undergraduate students each semester to digitize our bee collection and image at least 700 specimens (approximately one per species of bee we have) over a four year period, giving them valuable collection and research experience. We anticipate to present a poster of the data at the Entomological Society of America meeting this year, giving the students new experiences in professional societies as well

Proposal abstract reads: Bees are the most important pollinators in both managed and natural landscapes, and concerns are quickly growing about declines in bee diversity and numbers. Only a fraction of the ca. 4,000 known bee species in the United States have adequate data for assessing their presence or absence in an ecosystem. The iDigBees Thematic Collections Network addresses this problem by transcribing specimen label information for thousands of bee specimens in US insect collections into a shared global database. As a result, bees will become the first major insect group to have specimen data sufficiently digitized to promote research projects and support conservation efforts. Specifically, the iDigBees project will (1) map distributions for thousands of bee species and quantify patterns of bee biodiversity; (2) identify data gaps to inform future inventory and monitoring efforts; (3) reveal changes in species distributions over time through historic records; (4) document the impacts of a changing climate on bees; (5) identify critical taxa and geographic areas for conservation; and (6) establish a network of researchers, conservationists, and land managers to rapidly utilize data for research, education, public policy, and land management. The education program will coordinate an array of existing programs and create a new technology-mediated learning tool, SMARTBees, to serve high school and college students. Obtaining specimen-level data on US bee species and communities, and integrating findings into education programs, are essential steps toward addressing the pollinator crisis.

iDigBees represents an in-depth insect biodiversity digitization initiative that will mobilize at least 350,000 bee specimen records, and 6,600 high-resolution image suites. Obtaining specimen-level data on US bee species and communities is an essential step toward addressing the pollinator crisis. Via the novel networks proposed here, species distribution patterns and “extended specimen” data will emerge, leading to testable hypotheses as to underlying mechanisms and predictions on how bees will respond to future global changes. Integrated data will also shed light on how particular life-history traits life-history traits respond to environmental change. iDigBees will help to highlight candidate pollinator restoration options for agricultural, urban, and other managed landscapes. This project, in partnership with researchers and government agencies, will provide open-source datasets for policy, research, and education. The iDigBees model will be promoted throughout North America and other continents to foster “deep global digitization”. The iDigBees network integrates educational and public engagement initiatives to work with the Biodiversity Literacy in Undergraduate Education (BLUE) RCN to build and implement novel biodiversity data-centric Open Education Resources that promote student-oriented learning. SMARTBees will serve as a digital platform featuring learning modules designed to serve culturally diverse high school students who are transitioning into community college as well as first year undergraduates. Building on the extended specimen model exemplary digital bee specimens will teach students host plant relationships, key evolutionary concepts and the important role pollinators have in sustaining the biodiversity of our planet.