project leader
Matt K
location
Hole in the Rock Road
(Grand Staircases-Escalante National Monument)
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Meet Olivia and Joe, our bee researchers

the project

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a hotbed of bee diversity. It's home to 660 species of bees. In contrast, the entire eastern United States has 770 species. Stop and think about this for a minute: an area the size of Delaware has nearly as many different bee species as every state east of the Mississippi River combined. The monument is a living lab for understanding the bee-flower relationships that are the basis of nearly every terrestrial ecosystem around the planet.

But in December 2017, President Donald Trump decided to reduce the size of Grand Staircase-Ecalante and open this land to increased human activity and development. What will happen to the bees? And why should we care?

Olivia Carril and Joe Wilson spent several years in the backcountry of the monument studying the bees. That was almost 15 years ago. Now we're going back with Olivia and Joe to do another round of studying the bees – and we're going to make a film about what they discover and why Grand Staircase-Escalante is so important to our future.

the steps

The steps involved with this stage of the project are pretty straightforward. With the funds we raise, we will:

  • Get the researchers and the film crew back out to the national monument in Utah.
  • Spend eight days on the ground at specific locations within the monument actively collecting bees.
  • Spend eight evenings pinning and labeling bees, preparing them to be sent off for identification.
  • Have our film crew documenting all aspects of the eight days, as well as capturing the bees going about their business in the wild.
  • Send our specimens for identification and analysis at a lab that specializes in this sort of thing.

why we're doing it

Bees are in trouble, right? Bee populations are declining?

The fact is, we don't know for sure. Yes, we have strong evidence that some of the 4,000 bee species in North America are in trouble – the rusty patched bumble bee is a great example. But to document a decline, you have to have a baseline for comparison, and for the vast majority of bees species, across the vast majority of North America, we simply don't have a good baseline.

But in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, we do. It's one of the few places in North America where the bees have been studied extensively in an almost pristine and untouched natural environment. And this is extremely powerful knowledge to have as we continue changing the world to meet our human needs. We can, for example, compare nearby urban communities (like Salt Lake City, just five hours north) with the monument to see which bees are present – and which are missing. And when we see differences, what do they mean? Are there any indications of serious ecological trouble ahead? Primitive and protected lands like Grand Staircase-Escalante give us the knowledge we need to ask the right questions and make the right choices.

Studying changes in bee populations – or any insect population – requires time and patience. One thing we've learned from Olivia and Joe's work in Grand Staircase-Escalante is that many bee species can be readily abundant one year, nearly absent the next, and then abundant again in some following year. Which means if you only compare two points in time, you'll likely have a false sense of how well certain bees are faring in our modern world. You have to study bees consistently and regularly over many years to gain a true understanding of changes and stability in their communities.

We are at a critical time in our history, when understanding everything we can about pollinators and insects is essential to our shared future. Unfortunately, the changes being made to Grand Staircase-Escalante are proceeding with reckless abandon and zero consideration for the unique bee communities living there.

This is exactly why we're going back. To learn even more about the bees. To call attention to how important this very special place is. And to make a film to share with all of you the wondrous world of the bees in Grand Staircase-Escalante.

budget

 

Labor, $20,416: Systematically collecting bees and preparing them for identification is not for the feint of heart; it requires time and hard work. So does filming the process and the discoveries. Labor costs will compensate both the researchers and the film crew for their efforts over the course of eight days.

Identification Services, $4,500: After collecting the bees, we have to identify them. This requires a specialized set of skills and tools in a lab, which will be covered by this part of the budget.

 

Film Equipment, $4,000: Capturing these little creatures in all of their exquisite beauty on film, in photos and with audio necessitates having some out-of-the-ordinary gear for your cameras.

 

ioby Fees $3,319: The ioby is more than just a fundraising website. The folks on the ioby team provide a tremendous amount of skill, expertise and moral support for helping get a project like this up and running. They deserve some love in return!

 

Travel, $3,170: We've got to get everyone to the national monument! This includes plane tickets for flying and gas for driving.

 

Room and Board, $2,800: Then we have to have a place to stay and food to eat while we're there.

 

Permits $2,000:  Fees that support our public lands and people caring for them.

 

Collection Materials, $850: Nets and bags. Pins, labeling tags, and collection drawers. This part of the budget will cover all the small items essential to a big project – and big discoveries!

 

The $41,055 total we're raising for these items is just part of the overall budget for the project. Our current estimate to complete the film and bring it to a screen near you is $125,000.

updates

Meet Olivia and Joe, our bee researchers

Researchers in monument area.

Olivia and Joe are an amazing pair of researchers to be working with on a project like this. Their knowledge of bees is astounding; their passion for bees is inspiring. To get just a flavor of what they bring to the study of these little creatures, check out the book they co-authored – literally "the book" on bees in North America – filled with amazing photographs and images they've captured over the years.

But it's not as if either Olivia or Joe were necessarily destined to mellitological* greatness. So how did they end up at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in the early 2000s doing such important work?

Image of Olivia in monument area.

"I never thought to myself: I’m going to go to college and I’m going to learn about bees," says Olivia. "That wasn’t really the plan."

Olivia's plan, such as it existed, was to find a career that paid her to spend time outside – and becoming a biologist was just the ticket. But as a freshman she had to find a job to make ends meet while in pursuit of her goals. The bulletin boards on campus were tacked full of "now hiring" notes fringed with tear-off phone numbers for countless different opportunities.

"But there was one that said something about a museum and bees or something," recalls Olivia. And the pay was higher than all of the others. "That seemed pretty good."

She applied for and got the job – which turned out to be a position working in a giant museum of bees. "These were all bees on pins, specimens from around the world," she says. There were brilliant green and blue bees; huge bees and tiny bees; bees with tongues so long that they wrapped all the way around their bodies. "They were beautiful and intriguing and not at all what I expected. And I got paid to have to look through these drawers all of the time."

Very quickly her boss (and later her mentor) recognized that this was more than just part-time employment for Olivia. So when he got funding to do a survey of the bees in Pinnacles National Monument in California, her boss asked Olivia if she would be the collector.

Olivia jumped at the opportunity. "I would go out with a net and hike the trails and collect bees," she says. "I had to camp for three months straight which was like a dream come true! My life was perfect! By the end, I was insanely hooked on learning more about bees."

Right around end of Olivia's senior year, Grand Staircase-Escalante was officially designated as a monument, and it was specifically set aside as a place for scientific research. Olivia and her mentor put together a proposal to do a big, intense bee survey of the area. "Definitely bigger and more intense than what I’d done in Pinnacles," she says.

Needless to say, they got the funding. The project ran for four years (2000-2003), and the knowledge it produced is the basis for the research we're returning to do this spring.
 

Image of Joe in monument area.

Joe's story is a little different in that, for as long as he can remember, he's always been interested in insects. In fact, he grew up wanting his backyard to be a nature sanctuary, and spent his time looking under rocks and logs for creatures that populated his homemade preserve.

But like Olivia, Joe was drawn to bees later in life for practical reasons.

"I got into bees because in college I met this girl that I was interested in," he says with an unabashed smile. The girl's name was Lindsey, and she and Joe are now married with a family. "She came back from a summer-long job in the Grand Staircase National Monument. I liked her so I volunteered in the lab she worked in and it happened to be the bee lab."

The job in the monument was, of course, surveying bees. And their boss was Olivia.

"Lindsey told me I ought to consider hiring this guy Joe for the next year because he was totally into natural history, he was great with a net, and he already had his own insect collection," recalls Olivia. So she interviewed Joe and quickly brought him on board. The following summer, he was out in the monument helping uncover this amazing world of bees.

"That experience worked out pretty well for them," Olivia says with a smile.

It worked out well for all of us. Because of Olivia and Joe – and Lindsey and the entire team they've worked with – we now have incredible insight into this hotspot of bee diversity. And the bees have two smart and passionate advocates in their corner.

You can read more about Olivia and Joe on our Team page.

* melittology mel·​it·​tol·​o·​gy | \ ˌmeləˈtäləjē\: a branch of entomology concerning the scientific study of bees.

The Fundraising Tour

Just returned from several days on the road talking up the Bees of Grand Staircase-Escalante, fundraising, and getting to meet some of the coolest people in the bee biz. (Also preparing for another fundraising event this coming weekend.)

The Bee Lab
First stop on the trip was the USGS Bee Lab in Maryland to visit with with Sam Droege. Sam and his crew have made a lot of amazing contributions to the world of biological fieldwork and field research, but his up-close-and-personal photos of bees and other insects have been absolutely inspiring to me. Check out the Lab's every-growing collection of images on Instagram and Flickr.
 

Image of Sam Dreoge at microscope.

The Smithsonian
Next stop was a visit to the bee collection at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC! I had a great conversation with Sean Brady, Silas Bossert, and Chris Meyer about bees, research practices, and maintaining a biological collection of this size (no small feat).

Image of big Indonesian bee specimens.

They also took me on a tour of the collection. You know that giant Indonesian bee that was recently rediscovered? The Smithsonian has a pair of specimens. They've also got a couple specimens of Franklin's bumble bee – which has most likely gone extinct in North America, almost completely unnoticed.

Image of bumble bee specimens.

The Fundraising
Over the weekend I attended two fundraising events for the project in the Washington DC area. I was thrilled with how many people came out to watch the trailer and talk about our project! It's always great to be in a room full of people who are genuinely interested and want to know more. Many thanks to everyone who joined us and have since supported the project!

This weekend we'll be hosting another fundraising event at home in the Finger Lakes of New York state. Looking forward to another viewing of the trailer and more great conversation about the bees of Grand Staircase-Escalante. If you're in the area, come join us!

Reward for you: Special thanks in the film credits

Wh-What?!? Our fundraising campaign for this project passed the $5,000 mark on Sunday night and kept on moving today! This deserves a little bit of love in return. So how about this: Everyone who contributes to the campaign will get a special thanks in the film credits! Because no matter the amount, it's your support that's making this essential science and the film documenting it possible.

You rock, my friends!

Why do we need to crowdfund bee research?

It’s only been a few days and our ioby campaign for the Bees of GSENM is off to a fantastic start! We ended our third day $3,327 closer to our goal. This is a fantastic start! Thank you to everyone who has given to the project so far. Let’s keep this rolling.

Of course, this whole project raises an interesting question: Why do we need to crowdfund fieldwork and research on bees? Aren't there official agencies that provide money for projects like this? The answer is not a satisfying one.

The Atlantic has a great story about the recent "Insect Apocalypse" headlines, exploring how we really need more data to make such bold statements (although the data we do have definitely points in this direction). The piece addresses funding as part of the problem:

"Few researchers have kept running tallies on insect populations, aside from a smattering of species that are charismatic (monarch butterflies), commercially important (domesticated honeybees), or medically relevant (some mosquitoes). Society still has a lingering aversion toward creepy crawlies, and entomological research has long been underfunded. Where funds exist, they’ve been disproportionately channeled toward ways of controlling agricultural pests. The basic business of documenting insect diversity has been comparatively neglected, a situation made worse by the decline of taxonomists—species-spotting scientists who, ironically, have undergone their own mass extinction."

What's more, the funding that could be available for monitoring bee and other insect populations are getting much harder to come by. Over the past decade, there's been a flattening of federal spending on basic research (defined as “activity aimed at acquiring new knowledge or understanding without specific immediate commercial application or use") and there are more and more scientists competing for this same pool of money. The overwhelming majority of federal science funding goes to biomedical research, and what money remains typically goes to projects that get flashy results – not projects focused on monitoring or replication of results.

A team of journalists at Vox produced an extensive piece about the problems facing science, including another really important point about funding:

"Grants also usually expire after three or so years, which pushes scientists away from long-term projects. Yet as John Pooley, a neurobiology postdoc at the University of Bristol, points out, the biggest discoveries usually take decades to uncover and are unlikely to occur under short-term funding schemes."

One thing we’ve learned from Olivia and Joe’s work in Grand Staircase-Escalante is that many bee species can be readily abundant one year, nearly absent the next, and then abundant again in some following year. Which means you have to study bees consistently and regularly over many, many years to gain a true understanding of changes and stability in their communities. The current system of science funding in the United States simply is not conducive to this type of work.

"We’re between a rock and a hard place," says Joe. "We have these questions about bees and other insects we need to answer, and nobody is willing to put forward the efforts or the funding or the resources to let us answer those questions."

This is exactly why we're crowdfunding the Bees of GSENM project. We want to get Joe and Olivia back on the ground to continue doing the essential fieldwork that needs to be done. Grand Staircase-Escalante is one of the few places in North America where the bee community has been studied extensively and can serve as a baseline for assessing change – both in comparing our man-made world to the natural world, and in comparing the natural world to itself over time.

"Baseline data allows us to ask the right questions and to guide our actions," says Olivia. "What's more, it allows us to watch for change in Grand Staircase's own bees – in the face of the incredible change to land use now likely to occur here."

This is exactly why your support for this project matters so much: You are helping make essential insect research possible. We thank you. And so will the bees!

This is real science

Image of Olivia and crew in monument.

The Bees of Grand Staircase-Escalante documentary is more than just a film – it's real science! We're going back with Olivia and Joe (the original researchers) to survey and study the bees for a week. We're going to look at how the bees are doing since 2003, and how they're doing since the monument was reduced in size and divided up in 2017. And we're going to capture it all on film to share with you!

We'd love to have your support to make this happen. Even $5 will help us buy a bunch of pins to mount the bees for identification!

Make a difference with your contribution. And check out our trailer for the project.

Thanks everyone!

Crowdfunding starts March 1 (but start giving early)

Image of collecting on monument road.

Get ready! Our ioby crowdfunding campaign is going live to the world this Friday, March 1!

But here's a little secret for you early birds: our ioby page is live right now and accepting support for the project. All donations made before the March 1 kickoff will have a really important double impact. Early giving will, of course, contribute to the success of both the science and the storytelling. But early giving will also build momentum to inspire others to give!

Any amount of support will go a long way in making this project a success:

  • $5 will purchase 100 pins for mounting the bees we collect.
  • $25 will support one hour of fieldwork and collecting the bees.
  • $50 will support one hour of analyzing and identifying the bees.
  • $100 will purchase the nets and other supplies we need to collect bees.
  • $500 will support half a week of fieldwork by one researcher.

So take a moment and make difference for this extremely important project.

And spread the word to everyone you know who values science, the beautiful natural places in our country, and the bees!

Thank you, friends!

photos

This is where photos will go once we build flickr integration

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