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Public Interest in Bee Conservation Exceeds Understanding says USU Biologist

Tuesday, Sep. 05, 2017


Insect collection

Can you tell which of these creatures are bees and which aren't? According to a survey led by USU biologist Joseph Wilson, many people aren’t sure. While many are aware of bee declines and bees’ importance as pollinators, few people know of the wide diversity of bee species.


USU entomologist Joseph Wilson

USU entomologist Joseph Wilson, assistant professor of biology at USU's Tooele campus, and colleagues published findings in the Sept. 5, 2017, online edition of 'Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.’


Many people have heard bee populations are declining due to such threats as colony collapse disorder, pesticides and habitat loss. And many understand bees are critical to plant pollination. Yet, according to a study led by Utah State University ecologist Joseph Wilson, few are aware of the wide diversity of bees and other pollinators beyond such species as honeybees.

“The U.S. Postal Service recently released its ‘Protect Pollinator’ series, which features only the European honeybee and the monarch butterfly,” says Wilson, assistant professor of biology at USU’s Tooele campus. “A social media commenter observed that using these two species on a campaign to protect pollinators is akin to focusing on chickens to save birds. It’s a pretty good comparison, actually.”

Wilson, with colleagues Matthew Forister of the University of Nevada-Reno and USU alum Olivia Messinger Carril ’00 MS’06, published findings in the Sept. 5, 2017, online edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment .

“In our recent survey, 99 percent of our respondents said bees are critical or important, yet only 14 percent were able to guess within 1,000, the actual number of bee species in the United States,” he says. “Most people estimated around 50 species of bees, while the correct number is about 4,000 known species.”

Further, when shown images of varied insects, many respondents were unable to discern bees from non-bees.

“A challenge with lack of knowledge about bees is you can’t protect what you’re now aware of,” Wilson says. “We could be losing species or causing decline and not even know it.”

Public education is key to bolstering conservation efforts, he says.

“Because conservation efforts require substantial public support, it’s important that the public understand bees and what needs to be done to protect these species,” Wilson says. “Education and outreach are key to understanding bee declines and protecting our pollinators.”

Related Links
“Pitching In: USU Biologists Study Evolution of Labor Division in Bees,” Utah State Today 
“’Ant-like’ Bees Among New Desert Species Identified by USU Entomologist,” Utah State Today 
“Book Creates Buzz: Aggies Publish Guide to North American Bees,” Utah State Today 
USU Department of Biology 
USU College of Science 

Contact: Joseph Wilson, 435-797-9953, joseph.wilson@usu.edu
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517, maryann.muffoletto@usu.edu





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