MaLisa Spring is the State Coordinator of the Ohio Bee Survey, based at The Ohio State University.
Hi MaLisa! Part of our work at the RCN involves connecting with and learning more about ongoing bee monitoring efforts across the US. We were excited to find the Ohio Bee Survey! Before we learn more about your work, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got to where you are?
I am the State Coordinator of the Ohio Bee Survey along with the assistance of Denise Ellsworth and Dr. Karen Goodell. I have previously worked as the State Coordinator of Ohio Dragonfly Survey. I graduated from The Ohio State University with a Master's of Science in Entomology and Marietta College with a Bachelor's of Science in Biology. I have worked on many research projects including urban pollinator habitat management, bee floral use via pollen analysis, ladybeetle richness, mangrove restoration in abandoned shrimp farms, among others.
How did the Ohio Bee Survey begin? What are its goals?
The Ohio Bee Survey is a statewide project with the goal of documenting what species are present in Ohio. The state lacks an attempt to document and list the species of bees, so this is the first organized effort in the state to do so. We also hope to get better floral use data by associating bees with the plants they are foraging. This project is funded through the Ohio Biodiversity Conservation Partnership with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and The Manitou Fund.
What are some lessons you learned about running a bee survey from your experience with the Ohio Dragonfly Survey?
The Ohio Bee Survey and The Ohio Dragonfly Survey are very different beasts. With dragonflies, it is much easier to photograph specimens to get a confident species level ID. We have an estimated 170 species of dragonflies and damselflies in Ohio, whereas we expect to get well over 400 species of bees in the state. I had the approach the bee survey from a very different method of recruitment, in part because the bee survey relies so much on lethal specimen collection so that we can actually verify the IDs. For the dragonfly survey, I was able to just do various presentations across the state and recruit people to photograph dragonflies periodically and upload them to iNaturalist. With the bee survey, we wanted a full season of data from set sites where we knew people would commit to sample the full flight period. We recruited mostly from the Ohio Pollinator Specialists group run by Denise Ellsworth. That group has already gone through several courses on bees. I have also taught for that course and know that many of them are very dedicated and enthusiastic about bees, so it made sense to bring them on board. I also made sure that people had to fill out forms and respond to individual emails at least twice to verify they were responsive and willing to commit. That seemed to have worked out, as we got a 90% return rate on the bee bowl sample kits!
We also recruited people from county extension agents so that we could get better statewide coverage of people. We tried to get at least one kit shipped to each county, and ended up shipping kits to 87 of 88 counties in Ohio!
Can you tell us about the methods you use to conduct the Ohio Bee Survey? Who does the sampling, and how and where does sampling occur?
We have two main methods, with bowl traps in 2020 and then targeted sampling for specialist bees in 2021-2022. Over 155 trained volunteers and myself set bowl traps the first summer. The bowl traps were set out for 24 hours ~weekly pending weather at their pre-selected sample site.
Then in 2021, we switched over to collecting directly from flowers to attempt to target specialist bees. The targeted sampling involved 40 individuals from the Ohio Pollinator Specialists group who were already were trained on netting and collecting bees, so I only had to do a quick refresher course over zoom on how to collect specimens for our project. The targeted sampling is from anywhere in Ohio that the floral targets of that month exist, with the caveat that they have to make sure to get permits for each site in advance. I also helped people get permits, though many of them already worked with their local parks and had permits before starting this project.
What do you do with the specimens collected? What are some of the most exciting specimens you’ve encountered?
Specimens will be deposited at the Triplehorn Insect Collection and also the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. We are still processing our specimens, and will be publishing a paper on the cool bee finds soon. I was excited to find interesting bycatch in our bowl samples, so we also have students working on hover fly (Syrphidae) and robber fly (Asilidae) specimens that got accidentally fell into the bowl traps. For our blog updates, I would also photograph cool other bug finds and post them with natural history tidbits for our volunteers. We found things like Forcepflies (Merope tuber), tiny Vertigo snails (Vertigo sp), Big-headed ants (Pheidole sp), and even bristle millipedes, all of which are fun finds for an entomologist.
Examples of bycatch from Ohio Bee Survey bowl samples, including a bristle millipede (shown above right).
You share weekly updates on the Ohio Bee Survey blog. Can you share some about the role of outreach and communication in your work?
Communication is key to volunteer specimen collections. There is no way I would have been able to make it out to 150 sites on a weekly basis. Initially, the blog had a few goals: 1) remind collectors weekly that the project is still ongoing and they should consider collecting, 2) keep volunteers engaged, learning, and excited to participate, and 3) keep my supervisor updated on progress given everyone was working from home given the ongoing pandemic. I would have needed to email my supervisor with progress updates anyway, so I figured it made sense to let everyone in on the progress updates.
I also used the blog to announce more resources and guides. Our volunteers love new resources, so we put out an Ohio Field Guide to Bees and also a Guide to the Specialist Bees of Ohio that anyone can have printed. Both guides are meant to encourage more collecting and detailed study by our volunteers.
Once the collecting period was over, I kept updating the blog to inform the collectors of the sorting and identification progress. That way they would get regular updates on our progress, instead of wondering what happened to all those bugs that they collected. It also helped cut down on individual emails to me asking for updates on their samples, as they could just search for their name and read the blog updates.
The sorting and pinning process took much longer than I had hoped, as we had initially planned to have group pinning parties to get everything pinned quickly. Alas, the ongoing pandemic made it not safe to have large gatherings, so having limited numbers of volunteers in the lab and sending out weekly updates was a consolation prize. Many of the volunteers commented how much they enjoyed the content of the blogs, so I tried to keep them going.
Our blogs can be found here: https://u.osu.edu/beesurvey/
As predicted, the bowls caught a lot of bees, primarily the smaller bees like Lasioglossum, Ceratina, and Calliopsis. We were able to get everything pinned through the help of volunteers and student workers, but it was a lot of specimens. One surprising thing that I noticed was the sheer abundance of Calliopsis in our bowls, especially considering many of those same sites are regularly photo monitored. For some reason, we are rarely seeing Calliopsis alive in Ohio, but if you looked at the bowl data, you would think they are one of the most common bees in Ohio. So there is some discrepancy from what we see actually flying and what we are catching in bowls. If anyone has more information about why we so rarely see Calliopsis flying, I would love to hear it!