Farmers, researchers and Government working together in Tripura, India
As part of a Darwin Initiative project ‘Enhancing the Relationship between People and Pollinators in Eastern India’ the Centre for Pollination Studies, based at University of Calcutta, established a field station for researchers in the north eastern state of Tripura (http://cpscu.in/). This was initially funded by the UK and Indian Governments and the University of Calcutta, with ongoing support from the local Government of Tripura. Local field staff joined the project to support researchers and facilitate engagement with farmers.
In the first year a network of 15 long-term monitoring stations was established. Many farmers have been keen to engage by running long-term monitoring on their farms, sharing their local knowledge or taking part enthusiastically in training events. The project has run a series of well-attended farmer events, referred to as ‘festivals’ because they include a celebratory meal and some cultural events. At festivals, project staff provide training on pollinators and their role in agriculture. Local officials and prominent community members have increasingly lent their support, attending and speaking at these events. From the outset the Tripura State Department of Agriculture was very supportive, providing staff at no charge and helping to keep farmers informed. Recently a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Centre for Pollination Studies and the Tripura State Department of Biotechnology to mainstream the findings of the project research programme and to work together to engage and build capacity in local communities. The first jointly-run festival event attracted 150 people. The next joint venture will be to create exhibits in a public space.
Use of citizen science for pollinator research and monitoring
Long-term monitoring of pollinator populations, and pollination, is greatly needed all over the world. Appropriate methods and costs of a global monitoring scheme have been discussed and the UK Government is currently funding research to design a cost-effective pollinator monitoring programme for the UK, as part of the National Pollinator Strategy for England.
Citizen science projects to monitor pollinator populations have been established in many regions. As an indication of the scale of citizen science activity for pollinators, the Xerces Society (USA) provides a catalogue of 15 pollinator citizen-science projects in the US (http://www.xerces.org/citizenscience/pollinator-citizen-science/). A database of biodiversity monitoring projects across Europe collected by the EU MON project (http://eumon.ckff.si/index1.php; accessed 22 October 2014) lists 34 different butterfly, moth or wild bee monitoring schemes involving volunteers, in 18 different European countries. Most of these monitor butterflies (30 of the 34 schemes), ranging from single species (Maculinea rebeli) annual egg counts on a few sites by a single volunteer in Italy, to 2000 volunteers doing standardised weekly transect counts of 64 species at 1,200 sites in the UK.
Kremen et al. (2011) tested the quality of citizen-science data by comparing the results of flower visitor monitoring between trained citizens and professional insect ecologists. Overall coarse trends in pollinator abundance, richness and community structure matched between citizens and scientists. Citizens could reliably distinguish between native bees and honey bees (which are not native in the US), allowing them to provide important data on the overall abundance of wild bees, for example. Such data could potentially be used as proxies to track trends in pollination, or ecosystem health as required by policy makers, although their correlations with actual pollination or measures of ecosystem resilience are untested. In Kremen et al.’s study, the citizens missed over half the groups of bees collected. The authors concluded that citizen science data collected by inexperienced members of the public could not reliably reflect patterns in the occurrence of specific pollinator species or groups.
Some citizen science projects have generated globally important datasets. For example, data from longrunning insect recording schemes in the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands are the basis of important analyses of pollinator trends in Europe. The data held by these insect recording schemes are usually validated for obvious anomalies and verified by experts to check species identities. While there is often no information on sampling effort, and a possibility of bias towards attractive, unusual or easy to find species , statistical techniques have been developed to account for these issues .
National-level trends and spatial patterns are discernible from citizen-science data. Here we highlight a few studies to illustrate this. Deguines et al. (2012) found degraded insect flower-visitor communities in urban areas across France, relative to agricultural or natural areas, based on data from the SPIPOLL project. Hiromoto et al. (2013) are using a participatory monitoring project to gather information about the numbers of invading Bombus terrestris in Hokkaido, Japan. Stafford et al. (2010) showed that photographic records collected via popular social media sites could quickly generate records from across the UK, which could be used for species identification if clear instructions were given on important body parts to include in the photo. Trained members of the public in New South Wales, Australia monitored the extent of a small invading non-native bee species, Halictus smaragdulus. Data from the North American Bird Phenology Program were used to show that ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) are arriving 11-18 days earlier from their migration in the Eastern USA than in the early to mid-twentieth century. There are many other examples, covering pollinators in general, or specific to bees, moths or birds.