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FALL 2010
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Short Reports

Bee Database Creates Buzz

By Molly Cronin ’11

Bee Database
Molly Cronin
Scholars around the world soon will have access to the 300,000-specimen Cornell Bee Collection in an online database.

Cornell’s Bee Collection—part of the Cornell University Insect Collection—was started in 1870, just five years after the university was established. Soon, its data will be available online to researchers, growers, and backyard naturalists alike.

Bryan Danforth, professor of entomology, along with colleagues at major entomological research collections across the country, received a share in a $1.47 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). As a member of this three-year project, Danforth will create a database of Cornell’s 300,000-specimen Bee Collection.

The bee databasing project is part of an initiative by the NSF in partnership with the American Museum of Natural History to pool 12 major North American bee collections from across the country into one, accessible resource, via the Discover Life Website. When the site is completed, visitors will be able to access information on thousands of bee species, including their typical host plants, the population’s global distribution, and how this distribution has changed over time.

While bee enthusiasts and entomologists will be consulting the database for personal interest or study, growers may find the various features of the database valuable, as well.

“If we don’t have bees, we don’t have fruit,” says Rick Reisinger, owner of Reisinger’s Apple Country, a fruit farm in Watkins Glen. “For most of the fruit that I grow—apples, pears, plums, cherries, peaches, and berries—we bring in hives at a cost of about $50 to $60 an acre.” 

Roughly 30 percent of the human diet depends on pollination by bees, according to Danforth. While domesticated, non-native honey bees are the most widely used type of bee for agricultural functions, they have been declining over the last 50 years, focusing recent interest on native North American bee populations.

“What the database will do is provide growers and others with information on, first, what bee species are present in their area and, second, what bee species are likely to be important pollinators of any given crop,” Danforth explains. “Bringing in honey bee colonies is costly to growers.... By understanding more about the native bees, we may be able to help growers reduce the costs associated with pollination.”

Aside from agricultural reference uses, the database will aid in identifying future species and may have implications for conservation initiatives.

“Our insect collection is an incredible resource for understanding the biodiversity of North America and how it has changed over the past 150 years,” Danforth says. “Cornell’s involvement in the grant clearly illustrates the valuable resource that we have here.”