In our lab’s work, we’ve long appreciated the essential role of Community Science in conservation efforts. We rely on community scientists – in our case, volunteers with an interest in bees and ecology – for their observations and contributions to the Bumble Bee Watch (BBW) program.

In a paper published May 2024 in the science journal PLOS ONE, “Bumble Bee Watch community science program increases scientific understanding of an important pollinator group across Canada and the USA” (link), author and Colla Lab member Dr. Victoria MacPhail concretely documents just how effective community scientists have been in helping identify bumble bee species, habitat, species associations, distribution, and changes in population size, all of which helps to inform conservation management for bumble bees.

Victoria, along with Colla Lab lead and professor Sheila Colla and researcher Richard Hatfield of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, compared data uploaded by community scientists with that collected through formal scientific methods for the Bumble Bees of North America (BBNA) database. 

We found the community scientists covered as much ground geographically in ten years as the BBNA over all years – 63 provinces, states, and territories – and had information on 41 species compared to 48 in the BBNA. They were also able to inform researchers of which species were inhabiting changing ranges and detected several at-risk or endangered species, including the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee and Bohemian Cuckoo Bumble Bee, in unexpected locations. It would not be possible to collect this volume of meaningful information if it weren’t for the support of community scientists.

If you have a camera/cell phone and internet access, you can participate as a community scientist too. Uploading bumble bee sightings to is one very tangible way anyone who cares about vulnerable pollinators can help with conservation efforts. Our lab, and ecologists and conservation scientists across North America who also use the data, are so grateful to everyone watching out for the bees with us.