I walked through the oak woodland slowly, making a mental note of flowering species: Amsinckia menziesii, Lupinus albifrons, Vicia sativa. While the trees themselves were blackened by fire, a lush carpet of wildflowers obscured the charred ground. Over the course of the next two hours I would return to each flowering plant, carefully recording the species, and then waiting patiently for a bee to come visit. After a full day of visiting sites spread throughout the valley, repeating a protocol that brought an element of walking meditation to scientific research, I would return to the lab, plant and bee specimens in hand, to meticulously preserve, label, and sort specimens, and record the interactions I had discovered between bees and plants. This exercise, carried out weekly for many months, was an effort to untangle the mysteries behind how the intricate webs of interaction between bees and flowers respond to disturbance, in this case catastrophic wildfires that raged through northern California the previous year.
While years have passed since I completed my graduate work, I often return to the concept of ecological community interactions and their ability to withstand and recover from disturbance, particularly in my current work supporting urban and suburban communities in their pollinator conservation efforts. Disturbance is perhaps one of the few constants in every life, whether you’re a bee, plant, person, or even a soil microbe. In urban ecology, we often talk about the ways in which human actions have caused disturbance for natural systems: prairie turned to pavement, chemical pesticides, climate change. While we’ve seen many species decimated by these disturbances, we’ve also watched ecological communities adapt and recover when given the chance. For example, introducing a matrix of natural habitat pockets throughout an urban core can turn a pollinator desert into an environment supporting varied six-legged, flying critters in only a matter of years.
In 2020 our human communities experienced one of the most substantial and widespread disturbances of our lifetimes in the form of COVID-19. Elements that had been integral to our lives were suddenly removed and we were forced to reimagine our lives without them: dinner with friends, hugs, and for many the existence of a loved one. During the many dark months of sweat pant-clad, solitary work in my guest-room-turned-office, I found comfort thinking back to those invisible webs of plants and pollinators that I studied in the charred woodlands of northern California. Not only had the communities recovered, but they had actually become stronger as a result.
This past month I completed one of my favorite work tasks of the year: reading the reports that the Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA communities that I work with submit on their accomplishments from the previous year. What I found within the reports was striking. It was a textbook example of resilience. Rather than canceling projects and activities, the committees adapted to the new conditions, finding ways to continue creating spaces for our ecological communities to do the same. The Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA community is a wonderful reminder of the resilience of our communities, both human and non-human, and our ability to recover, adapt, and thrive as an interconnected web.
“The garden has been a source of comfort and mental health for a lot of people during COVID. There are few things we can do safely with other people during a pandemic, thankfully gardening is one of them.” – Decatur, Georgia
“Being awarded the Bee Campus USA designation in late 2020 was a much needed bright spot in an incredibly difficult year! It gave all of us a boost of inspiration to not only continue our bee conservation work, but to expand it.” – University of Utah, Salt Lake City
A snapshot of 2020 for Bee City USA & Bee Campus USA:
This snapshot and the gallery of images that follows show activities and projects taken on by Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates in 2020—but they only scratch the surface of all the great work that took place throughout the year. Visit the 2020 renewal reports page to continue reading stories of conservation, creativity, community building, and resilience.
In 2020, 23 cities and 16 campuses committed to protect pollinators in their communities through becoming affiliates of Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA. We ended the year with 242 communities in 43 states.
Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates collectively completed 764 projects to create and enhance habitat for pollinators, totaling over 450 acres.
Affiliates engaged a variety of approaches to reduce pesticide use and use integrated pest management to improve habitat for pollinators. Actions included implementing an integrated pest management plan, avoiding use of pesticides in designated pollinator habitat and other sensitive sites, and restricting pesticides used to organic pesticides.
Approximately 58,000 people were engaged in pollinator conservation by Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates in 2020. People were engaged through community events, volunteer activities, habitat projects, training courses, continuing education, and service learning. A total of around 800 events, the majority of which were virtual, were hosted by affiliates in 2020.
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