Bee Watchers

In 2007, the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation and the Greenbelt Native Plant Center began the Great Pollinator Project (GPP) in collaboration with the Great Sunflower Project in San Francisco. The goals of the GPP were to:

  • Increase understanding of bee diversity in New York City and the surrounding region;
  • Raise public awareness of native bees and their importance; and
  • Improve park management and home gardening practices to benefit bee conservation in cities.

Citizen Science Bee Watchers Research Project    The purpose of the Bee Watchers project was to identify areas of New York City with good pollinator service by determining how quickly bees arrived during observation periods to pollinate flowers in backyards and gardens.   Methods:   During the summers of 2007 – 2010, a total of 125 volunteer Bee Watchers observed the bees visiting a suite of native flowering plant species (purple coneflower, mountain mint, common milkweed, rough-leaved goldenrod, smooth aster, bee balm, woodland sunflower and annual sunflower) at locations throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Observed bees were “assigned” to one of five categories: honey bee, bumble bee, large carpenter bee, shiny green bee, and “other” type of bee. Over the four summers of observation, Bee Watchers submitted almost 1,500 observations from all five boroughs of the city.   General Results:   The eight different flowers that were included in this study varied in how quickly and consistently they attracted bees. They also varied in the degree to which nearby flowers and surrounding landscape influenced bee visitation. For the purposes of this report, we provide general findings for all flowers combined.   Generally, focal flowers located in more natural areas (parks, community and private gardens) were more successful at attracting bees than those in more artificial settings such as rooftop gardens, window boxes, and street-side locations. In addition, focal flowers in gardens with more nectar resources (e.g., those with more than 100 flowers) were visited by more bees than those located in areas with fewer surrounding floral resources. Theoretically, a large number of surrounding flowers could compete for pollinators and end up reducing bee visitation to focal plants. Contrary to this idea, however, our results indicate that an abundance of surrounding flowers facilitates increased pollination service to focal plants. This suggests a “magnet effect” whereby increased floral resources attract an abundant and diverse pollinator community, which then leads to increased pollination services for many flowers in the area.    Land-Cover Analysis Results:   We also looked at the land cover (tree canopy, grass/shrubs, bare earth, water, buildings, roads, other paved surfaces) around each observation point using raster files provide by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. These cover types were ultimately grouped into two main habitats: natural (tree canopy plus grasses/shrubs) and hard surfaces (buildings, roads, and other pavement). (Water and bare ground made up less than 1% of the habitat so were not included). Results indicate that the percentage of natural habitat up to 100 meters around an observation point (approximately 1 city block) plays a significant role in determining pollinator (bee) visitation to focal plants. This highlights the importance of increasing green space at the neighborhood scale to benefit local pollination service. This can be achieved by creating community and rooftop gardens, adding flower beds to front and back yards, and increasing green space wherever possible.    Other GPP research:   We also worked with volunteers to determine what motivated them to become citizen scientists. Results of this work can be found in:    Toomey, A.H. and M.C. Domroese. 2013. Can citizen science lead to positive conservation attitudes and behaviors? Human Ecology Review (20)1:50-62.       Additional publications are being submitted to various journals but as of this date (April 2014) have not been published.  Any questions, please contact Liz Johnson ( or