In Seattle, the native bumblebee, Bombus occidentalis, is endangered. To monitor the survival of these bees, a group of graduate students in the UW Department of Biology developed the Urban Pollination Project (UPP) earlier this year.
Because of the connection between bees and food production, Susan Waters, a Ph.D. candidate in the UW Department of Biology and a researcher for UPP, said this research affects humans as well. One-third of the food humans consume could not be produced without bees.
“This is a service that is performed by pollinators that is really critical to human beings,” Waters said. “It is really critical for food production. It’s something that a lot of people, when they find out about it, are very interested in and very excited about. Food is something that everybody is interested in.”
UPP measures production of tomato plants — which can only be pollinated by bumblebees — in community gardens around Seattle. The experiment used a control plant that was exposed normally to the environment, one plant surrounded by netting to keep bees away and allow the plant to pollinate itself, and one plant that was pollinated by hand. UPP’s 85 volunteers and students from two elementary-school classes monitored the plants.