Highlighting species in Costa Rica and California, the Urban Bee Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, has amassed a collection of over 136,000 bee specimens over the span of forty years. Currently, this collection is being carefully curated by their collector, Professor emeritus Gordon W. Frankie, and a small group of undergraduate researchers. Despite no-longer lecturing as a Professor, Dr. Frankie continues his role as an educator by providing his undergraduate researchers with experience in an ever-expanding field of research, thus advancing current knowledge on bee species of the western U.S. and contributing to the vast inventory of UC Berkeley’s Essig Museum of Entomology.
The professional curation of the specimen collection is the Bee Lab’s greatest priority. According to Dr. Frankie, “This is not simply a matter of having a collection, but to develop inventory information on the bees of western U.S. and to monitor their distribution”. To assist in this goal, the specimens are labeled with their species, date of capture, and place of capture. The Lab continues to develop an extensive database, including thousands of bee species, and the plants that host them. This not only provides information on certain species and their regions of occurrence, but also their plant preferences–giving key insight into flowers and their potential to increase pollinator populations. Dr. Frankie highlights the attention to detail needed in the curation process, stating, “We cannot have mistakes, trust is important when distributing information, providing incorrect information will ruin that trust”.
The lab’s findings have been highlighted in a number of publications and two books that follow rather comprehensive approaches to the bees of California and Costa Rica, along with their respective host flowers. The lab’s first book, California Bees & Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, published in 2014 by Heyday Books, describes twenty-two of the most common bee groups in California. As a description of bee behavior and plant preferences, the book displays the important roles bees play in California and includes gardening methods that can allow pollinators to flourish in urban and suburban gardens alike. The second book, Abejas de Costa Rica highlights the diversity of bees in Costa Rica, along with their symbiotic relationship with the planet; in November of this year (2023), this book will be available in an English translation.
Currently, the Urban Bee Lab is being supported by a number of small donations and grants, while continuing to contribute to various projects; the largest being UC Berkeley’s Essig Museum of Entomology—where the lab’s curated bee specimens will eventually be deposited when space is made available. Therefore, with an ever-declining pollinator population, the work done at the Urban Bee Lab is providing crucial information that will hopefully contribute to lessening the damage done to bees, not only in California and Costa Rica, but around the world.
With this, the Urban Bee Lab looks to spread its love of bees to the public and gain support in its mission to preserve a foundational segment of our ecosystems.
Josie is a senior studying Environmental Earth Science. She joined the lab in the spring of 2023 because she has a huge interest in insects and a passion for native plant and pollinator conservation. When she is not studying, she loves to read, write, bake, and go hiking.