Counting bees: two-year Vineyard pollinator study is completed

One of the many pollinators found in the Trustees of Reservations study, the female, Epeolus scutellaris bee, can be found in much of the continental United States. — Photo by John S. Ascher

The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) last month announced the completion of the two-year native pollinator research study conducted on Martha’s Vineyard. The study documents 170 species of native bees on the Island, which represents 50 percent of the 342 species known in Massachusetts. There are approximately 4,000 species nationwide and 20,000 worldwide.

“Martha’s Vineyard represents a New England hotspot for regionally rare and threatened invertebrate wildlife,” TTOR said in a press release. The study is an attempt to establish a baseline for the Island’s pollinators, primarily bees, and will be used as a tool for assessing the future ecological health of the Vineyard, according to TTOR.

The study was led by Paul Goldstein of the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institution, a respected entomologist and a recognized authority on the insects of Martha’s Vineyard.

The study summary, entitled “Understanding Native Bees for Conservation, Monitoring, and Management,” reports the highest documented concentration of bees yet recorded from an Atlantic coast offshore island. The study is the largest native pollinator inventory and research project in Massachusetts.

While the study data is still being processed and the final results are not complete, the summary states that more than 150 sets of 25 bee traps were deployed in all six Island towns and more than 35 independent collecting events were undertaken with the help of volunteers. This represents an estimated 4,000 traps set, 182,000 trap‐hours, and an additional 100+ person‐hours in the field sampling bees.

An estimated 12,000 bees and wasps have been individually processed thus far, identified and labeled with fully geo-referenced data. Along with the 170 species of bees (a newer count than is in the report) more than 80 species of other macro‐hymenoptera (sawflies, wasps, bees, and ants) were recorded, not including approximately 70 species of ants.

At least one bee species not previously recorded in Massachusetts, and at least three species that had not been described (named) prior to 2011 were found. Several regionally rare or threatened species that represent potential conservation targets were also identified.

“This study allows TTOR to better understand the core diversity of native pollinators on the Vineyard, share data and compile suggestions for best management practices of pollinator-friendly landscapes among staff, partners and like-minded conservation organizations,” Mr. Goldstein said in an email to The Times.

He said that this study is one part of an initiative to understand bee distributions spearheaded by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Dr. John Ascher, of the museum’s department of invertebrate zoology, determined the specimens and oversaw the database effort. Cerina Gordon, a student at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, contributed to the database effort. The study is being coordinated with similar efforts on other offshore islands and throughout Massachusetts.

“The ongoing analysis of data will, we hope, inform sound land use and agricultural practices island-wide and enhance our ability to manage our native landscapes sustainably,” Mr. Goldstein said.

He added that the study was a collaborative effort among TTOR, Mass Audubon-Felix Neck, The Nature Conservancy, Vineyard Conservation Society, the Land Bank, and state agencies including the Department of Conservation and Recreation, volunteers, and scientists at natural history museums.

The study was funded by the Edey Foundation, which was created in 1988 by the late Maitland Edey. The foundation awards grants on an annual basis to nonprofit organizations engaged in conservation-related efforts on the Vineyard. TTOR is the nation’s oldest private statewide land conservation organization.

All about pollination

On Friday, July 20, Island Grown Bees (IGB) and the Nature Conservancy will host a presentation by Mr. Goldstein, IGB entomologist Everet Zurlinden, and Nature Conservancy ecologist Matt Pelikan.

Their presentation, “Nature’s partners: pollinators, plants, and you,” begins at 10 am at the Polly Hill Arboretum in West Tisbury.

They will discuss how people interact with the Island’s insect pollinators, and present ways to enhance native pollinator diversity. The program is free and open to the public. For more information contact: Randi Baird,

The complete TTOR press release is available at

A PDF of the study summary findings can be found here.