Citizen Science, Children & Bees

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Scientists expected bees to gradually cease buzzing as the sky darkened during an eclipse. Instead, they stopped altogether. Credit Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

After following the work of Nicholas St. Fleur for a couple years now–his beat includes archaeology, paleontology, and space among other of the things we care about on this platform, including conservation–his most recent story below is my favorite for one reason, namely citizen science. Specifically the participation of youth in such an important scientific investigation:

The Moon Eclipsed the Sun. Then the Bees Stopped Buzzing.

Researchers worked with a small army of elementary school children to collect audio recordings of bees as they visited flowers along the path of last summer’s total eclipse.

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National Forest Service workers at the Bridger-Teton National Forest Office in Jackson, Wyo., took a break to watch the Great American Eclipse last year. Credit Celia Talbot Tobin for The New York Times

Last year’s Great American Eclipse drew hundreds of millions of eyes to the sky. But while people across the country “oohed” and “aahed” at the phenomenon, it appears the bees went silent.

So found a new study that monitored the acoustic activity of bees before, during and after totality — the moment when the moon completely blocked the sun — during the solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. Researchers at the University of Missouri, along with a small army of elementary school children and other volunteers, collected audio recordings of honeybees, bumblebees and other types of bees as they visited flowers along the path of totality

The researchers found that while the insects were happily buzzing throughout the day and during the partial phases of the eclipse, the bees went quiet the instant that the total eclipse occurred in their location. Of the 16 monitoring locations the group set up in Oregon, Idaho and Missouri, they identified only a single buzz during totality, compared with a symphony of droning sounds most other times of the day.

“We expected there would be a gradual decrease in the number of buzzes as it got darker and darker, but we didn’t see that,” said Candace Galen, a biologist at the University of Missouri and lead author of the study, which appeared Wednesday in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America. “At totality, they just stopped. It was very surprising.”

They are not sure why the bees stopped buzzing, but think it may be related to how the pollinators interpret the drop in light.

Scientists have long investigated how animals react to eclipses. Studies of the 1991 eclipse over Mexico, Central America and South America showed that desert cicadas stopped chirping. Orb-weaving spiders spinning webs began to deconstruct them during totality, only to rebuild them when the sun returned…

Read the whole article here.

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