Once again, we wish to extend our heartfelt thanks to all those who have participated in the Martha’s Vineyard pollinator project by helping to inventory the Island’s native bees. We are indebted especially to the volunteers who helped sample bees and generate important data—including the first recorded occurrences of over 150 species from the Vineyard. The Trustees of Reservations also wish to thank the directors, biologists and property managers, both private individuals and staff at our fellow conservation organizations who enabled access to the properties under their stewardship, including The Massachusetts Audubon Society, Polly Hill Arboretum, The Nature Conservancy, The Vineyard Conservation Society, Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. This project has represented a unique collaboration among The Trustees of Reservations, its partner conservation organizations and state agencies, private citizens, educators and museum scientists.
Thanks to your help, we have documented a total of 167 species of bees (and counting) from the Island—more than from any other Atlantic coast offshore island yet inventoried, and including species that had either not been seen in New England for decades or that are known to occur in less than a handful of places in the region. These data complement the growing body of information on the biodiversity of the Cape and Islands region generally and the Vineyard in particular.
As you know there is great concern for pollinators nationwide, including both managed and native bees, some of which are critical to the longevity of our natural landscapes, and many of which bear directly on the long-term sustainability of our agricultural endeavors. During the course of the last year, we processed and identified thousands of specimens of bees and other pollinating insects, and continued to contribute to the global online database managed at the American Museum of Natural History by Dr. John S. Ascher. Even now, with help of natural history museum specialists, specimens you collected—nearly 10,000 Dukes County records in the database so far—are continually being prepared and identified, receiving unique barcode labels, and recorded online, fully geo-referenced. As the database grows, it will lend itself to comparisons with data from other areas, and enable scientists to address essential questions on topics ranging from climate change to the proliferation and impacts of invasive species. Already, the database has been used to demonstrate that the flight seasons of certain bees have shifted during the last century as temperatures have warmed. The Vineyard data represent a unique contribution to this database in terms of both numbers and composition. Furthermore, we invite you to utilize the developing reference collection of native bees generated from this work that is now housed at The Trustees of Reservations office in Vineyard Haven. Our findings to date include a taxonomic breakdown of the Vineyard’s known bee fauna documented so far from each of the six Island towns. As the year progresses, we anticipate disseminating more details and analyses about the diversity and composition of the Vineyard’s insect fauna in formal publications.
And as the summer nears, we are poised to embark on some promising new endeavors. We have recently combined forces with Island Grown Initiative and The Nature Conservancy in order to disseminate educational information to residents interested in managing pollinator-friendly landscapes and farming them sustainably. Our first joint public program will take place on July 20 at the Polly Hill Arboretum. Although we have concluded the formal inventory funded by the Edey Foundation and The Trustees of Reservations, we are keeping up the momentum that has built during the course of the last two years, and we continue to expand our knowledge base by continuing to study bees and other Island pollinators, both systematically and opportunistically.
A second especially exciting initiative has recently presented itself in the form of a citizen-based initiative to document pollinators and other Massachusetts wildlife, a fledgling Massachusetts Natural History Survey, soon with a Web presence at Discoverlife.org. For many years, amateur naturalists have contributed enormously to our understanding of the distributions of birds, butterflies, and wildflowers by making important observations, many of them informal. As some of you have already experienced, the technology exists and has been implemented to enable images of plants, birds or insects to be managed online in an interactive and fully geo-referenced database that already accommodates over one million records of bees — including ours — worldwide. The result of this capacity is to translate informal observations into archived records accurately located in space and time — records that can ultimately be combined with the information housed in museums and herbaria. We encourage our participants to explore this growing endeavor at discoverlife.org, and especially at discoverlife.org/moth.
Both professionally and personally, it has been a deeply gratifying and profound pleasure to have had the opportunity to work with each of you on such an exciting issue. We very much look forward to your continued involvement with Island biodiversity and conservation efforts, pollinator-related and otherwise. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or ideas on how we can collaborate toward taking this important issue to the next step, and engage others in conserving pollinators and their valuable service for a more sustainable future.
Paul Z. Goldstein is a certified moth expert and entomologist who works with the Smithsonian and National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.. He and Russ Hopping, ecology program director for The Trustees of Reservations, are leading the Island pollinator project; this piece went out as an e-mail to project supporters last week.