Collection

Safely ensconced behind white metal doors in a collection room of the California Academy of Sciences are 180,000 individual bee specimens. Glued onto paper or pinned to tags, the sometimes gold-and-black striped, sometimes fuzzy and sometimes iridescent green insects line up in straight rows, awaiting their moment to be useful to science.

  • Slide 1 of 3: A tray of bumble bees are part of California Academy of Sciences’ collection of bees. The academy is digitizing its 180,000-strong collection of bees with high resolution 2-D and 3-D photos.
  • Slide 2 of 3: Orchid bees are part of California Academy of Sciences’ collection of bees at its facility in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
  • Slide 3 of 3: Rachel Diaz-Bastin of the California Academy of Sciences entomology department shows part of the museum’s collection of bees.
>Full screen 1/3 SLIDES © Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

To help fight loss of bees, California Academy of Sciences to share 180,000-strong collection online

A tray of bumble bees are part of California Academy of Sciences’ collection of bees. The academy is digitizing its 180,000-strong collection of bees with high resolution 2-D and 3-D photos.

2/3 SLIDES © Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

To help fight loss of bees, California Academy of Sciences to share 180,000-strong collection online

Orchid bees are part of California Academy of Sciences’ collection of bees at its facility in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

3/3 SLIDES © Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

To help fight loss of bees, California Academy of Sciences to share 180,000-strong collection online

Rachel Diaz-Bastin of the California Academy of Sciences entomology department shows part of the museum’s collection of bees.

3/3 SLIDES

They’ll soon become more useful as the academy begins a project to photograph almost every bee in its collection. The high-resolution, 2-D and 3-D images will be uploaded to a national database called the Big Bee that will eventually include 1.5 million photos of specimens and 5,500 bee species. The goal is to make it easier for scientists to study how bees have evolved over time. They’re especially curious about traits that may show how they’ve adapted to climate change, one of the reasons attributed to their worldwide decline.

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“Are hairy bees better adapted to hot ecosystems, or are smaller bees more active in colder climates? These are pretty big questions that we don’t even have the answers to,” said Katja Seltmann, a UC Santa Barbara entomologist and lead for the Big Bee project.

Because there are 20,000 species worldwide, trying to figure out the reason for their decline is a huge question, she said.

“The reason bees could be declining in one small area could be very different than the reason why they’re declining somewhere else,” Seltmann said.

The $3.1 million Big Bee project, $255,400 of which is going to the academy, is funded by the National Science Foundation and will draw from about a dozen U.S. institutions.

Around 140,000 individual bee specimens from the academy’s collection in Golden Gate Park, including about 2,500 species, will be the subject of a photo shoot expected to take three years. That could include thimble-size California bumble bees and native bees as small as ants, blue-banded bees from Australia, and South American orchid bees as green and shiny as Christmas tree ornaments.

The academy has specimens as far back as the mid-1800s, some rescued from its original Market Street location before it was destroyed in the fires following the 1906 earthquake, said Christopher Grinter, collection manager of entomology. Some came from global expeditions in the early 20th century, including to the Philippines.

“Funding like this from the NSF allows us to make these specimens available digitally to researchers in these countries of origin, and the global research community,” Grinter said in an email.

Bees are vital to both the production of food and the health of ecosystems and are responsible for pollinating 100 of the crops grown in the United States or 75% of all fruits and vegetables. In 2006, beekeepers reported a dramatic decrease in the size of their honeybee colonies, a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. Though many bees die each winter — around 10% to 15% of a colony — the percentage of bee loss has stayed at around 20% to 35% since then, according to a national survey from the nonprofit Bee Informed.

In addition to climate change, the main causes of decline include pesticide use, habitat loss and disease, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Researchers focus on phenology, or when bees are actively flying, because that has shifted with changing climatic conditions, said Seltmann, also the director of the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration at UC Santa Barbara. Scientists will be able to track that kind of information if it was recorded when specimens were collected.

“When they actually emerge will vary depending on whatever their triggers are,” Seltmann said. “So for some bees, those triggers are going to be rainfall. And for other bees, those triggers will be temperature.”

If they emerge at different times than the plants they feed from, that could impact their survival, she said. Another thing researchers might look at is whether bees that visit many different plants may be more resilient than those that stick to one type, called specialists.

Seltmann said the recent loss of honeybees, originally brought into California in the 1800s, has sparked an interest in native ones, such as bumblebees that are used in some types of agriculture. The majority of pollinators are not honeybees, she explained, and tend to be more solitary, with much shorter life cycles. The collection will reflect their broad diversity.

“If the honeybees completely collapse, we need to make sure that there are bees around and bees pollinating,” Seltmann said. “Otherwise, people are going to be running around with Q-tips, developing small robots or something, because the plants aren’t going to just pollinate themselves.”

Tara Duggan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @taraduggan

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/to-help-fight-loss-of-bees-california-academy-of-sciences-to-share-180000-strong-collection-online/ar-AAQ3IMv

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