Global SwarmingGAMBIER, Ohio (June 27, 2011)
Beekeeper Jason Bennett and a cadre of Kenyon student and staff volunteers are tracking the behavior of bees to see what they reveal about the effect of climate change on pollinators and the flowers they visit.
With support from the Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC), Bennett, an instructional technologist in Library and Information Services, is part of a nationwide network of "citizen scientists" participating in a NASA-sponsored study that records the timing of honey production in order to examine the relationship between the nectar collection of honeybees, land-use patterns, and climate change.
Every day at sunset, Bennett or one of his volunteers climbs a hill at the BFEC to weigh Bennett's hive, which sits on an old-fashioned, industrial-sized platform scale. The weight of the hive reflects how much nectar the bees have been collecting from flowers to make honey. The network seeks to provide scientific support for observations that the flowering of major nectar-producing plants - known as nectar flow - is being affected by climate change.
Bennett and his volunteers record their daily measurements and send them to NASA scientist Wayne Esaias, who analyzes the data and posts nectar-flow trend graphs on a HoneyBeeNet Web site (honeybeenet.gsfc.nasa.gov) that includes information from collection sites in twenty states. The study needs a wide sample to account for the numbers of species and variability across the country.
Bennett began his participation three years ago after he read an article about the network in the Washington Post. "It got me thinking about how great it was that 'citizen scientists' could record data useful to scientists," Bennett said. "The network enabled me to use my bees for a scientific purpose without having to understand much science."
The BFEC gave Bennett access to volunteers and resources such as the scale to establish and manage a Kenyon site. "It fits with the BFEC mission to study the environment and provide opportunities for students to interact with it," he said. He's worked with about forty volunteers - mostly students - since he joined the network. "Sunset is not the most convenient time, especially on weekends, to be out weighing the hive, but our volunteers have been very faithful."
The HoneyBeeNet Web site posts updated Kenyon collection data, but Bennett has yet to examine it for any trend. "I'll leave that to the scientists," he said, "but this is a long-term project. The trends we're looking for don't appear until you have many years of data." The fear is that climate change will disrupt the delicate balance between many plant and pollinators that are co-dependent. "If that happens, both will perish," Bennett said.