STATE—Helping apiculturists and beekeeping hobbyists keep track of environmental stressors to their pollinators, the Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences and Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, along with other collaborators, created Beescape, an online tool used to monitor environmental conditions around hives, gardens and farms where bees are pollinating.

A Penn State release announcing the online tool notes that “Pennsylvania beekeepers lose nearly 50 percent of their honey bee colonies each winter” which are needed to pollinate nearly 90 percent of flowering plant species.

“Pollinators, particularly bees, play a vital role in supporting ecosystems in agricultural, urban and natural landscapes,” said Christina Grozinger, Distinguished Professor of Entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, in the release.

Key stressors reducing bee population include exposure to insecticides, reduced abundance and diversity of the flowering plants bees use for food, and lost of wild bee nesting habitats, states the release.

By accessing Beescape.org, users can select a location, generally where their apiary is located, and view the surrounding region up to five kilometers away.

This examination reveals a landscape-quality sore for the area and even allows beekeepers to examine local crops within the radius.

As quoted in the release, Maggie Douglas, an assistant professor at Dickinson College in Carlisle stated “Beescape allows people to see the world as a bee, which will help them make decisions about where to place their colonies or steps they and their neighbors can take, such as planting pollinator gardens or reducing insecticide use, to make the landscape more friendly for bees.”

Grozinger further noted in the release that Beescape.org acts as an intermediary, partnering researchers with beekeepers and gardeners to track the collective health of bee populations, and work towards a higher quality of life for pollinators.

The Penn State release notes several wild bee species are endangered or threatened, including the bumble bee, Bombus pensylvanicus.

“With data provided by beekeepers from agricultural, rural and urban landscapes across multiple states, we will be able to develop high-quality predictive models that will be included in the website in the future,” Melanie Kammerer Allen, a Penn State graduate student in ecology involved in the project, said in the release. “This will allow beekeepers to determine if they should provide the bees with supplementary food, for example, or for a grower to decide if they should add pollinator nesting habitat near their crops.”

Currently, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois are mapped on Beescape.org with plans to add more states in the future.

Active apiculturists and keepers of wild bee hotels alike are invited to join the community and further build on the informational resources available.

More information about the project is available at Beescape.org and the Center for Pollinator Research website: https://ento.psu.edu/pollinators.

—Information from a release was used in this story.