Technische Universität Berlin

Understanding Wild Bees

IPODI fellow Dr. Monika Egerer heads the project “Bees, pollination and citizen science in Berlin’s gardens”

Pantaloon bees have long hairs on their hind legs. They live in sandy soil and prefer flowers from the aster family such as chicory and autumn dandelion. This species is just one of many wild bee species in Berlin and is Dr. Monika Egerer’s favorite. The wild bees, Berlin, sand, plants, and Monika Egerer are all central players in the citizen science pilot project “Bees, pollination and citizen science in Berlin’s gardens”.

Berlin – City of wild bees and gardens

Few Berliners are aware that their city is home to more than 300 species of wild bees. The urban brownfields and numerous other small biotopes and gardens throughout the city offer the bees an attractive habitat. However, this diversity is in serious jeopardy. Half of these wild bee species are endangered and under official protection due to a growing lack of suitable habitat.

Berlin is also a contemporary “garden city” with a flourishing, diverse urban garden landscape. While many gardeners are interested in protecting bees, they often do not have an ecological understanding of bee diversity or know how to proactively design their gardens to help bees while ensuring high yields. The project “Bees, pollination and citizen science in Berlin’s gardens” aims to help change this. The citizen science project investigates how urban gardens can contribute to protecting pollinators, in particular bees, and which garden features can promote a great variety of wild bees.

Promoting understanding of wild bees in society

The project was initiated by Dr. Monika Egerer, who is currently researching as an IPODI fellow at TU Berlin’s Chair of Ecosystem Science/Plant Ecology. “We do not just want to understand biodiversity, ecology, and the protection of wild bees in Berlin urban gardens from a scientific perspective. We also need to contribute to the understanding of wild bees and biodiversity in society. To achieve this aim, we are including members of the public in the project, specifically people who are involved in community gardens,” explains Egerer, who studied environmental science at the University of California, Santa Cruz and went on to her complete her doctorate there in 2019. She then applied to the IPODI program at TU Berlin with a proposal for this project.

The International Postdoc Initiative (IPODI) at TU Berlin is part of the “Wissenschaftlerinnen an die Spitze” equal opportunities initiative, whose aim is to increase the number of women in leading positions. The program awards two-year scholarships to outstanding women scientists to conduct research at TU Berlin.

“I was already interested in the topic of community gardens in California and think it is wonderful when members of the public get to take an active part in scientific projects. I was also really interested in the research on pollinators being conducted at the TU Chair of Ecosystem Science, so I wanted to combine these interests into a single project,” says Egerer. In addition to the TU scientists, the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin is also involved in the project.

50 gardeners in 18 community gardens

The pilot project is being conducted in a total of 18 community gardens throughout Berlin. To be included in the project, a garden has to grow at least one kind of vegetable, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, or pumpkin. The biodiversity of the wild bees as well as the defining features of the city’s garden plants, soil, climate and landscape are being systemically documented in each of the gardens. Approximately 50 gardeners are recording the pollination of the selected vegetable plants over the season. The collaborative project also includes workshops on wild bees and biodiversity where the gardeners’ questions are also discussed. These questions will form the basis of public educational resources and guidelines on pollination in urban community gardens.

Urban gardens are important habitats

The results of the study will be used to develop measures to encourage pollinators in community gardens. The research project also includes a photographic component documenting which bee species pollinate which plants and motivating participants to take a closer look over a longer period of time and observe the growth of their own plants. Once the project ends, the photos and findings will be displayed in an exhibition at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.

“Perhaps our work and results will also help urban gardens secure their future existence. They are often created for temporary use and then forced to give way to construction projects. Unfortunately, this means yet another habitat for wild bees disappears,” says Egerer. Moving these gardens and transforming them into rooftop gardens is not a viable option for many bee species, she explains, as their natural habitat, such as that of the pantaloon bee, is sandy soil.

UN Decade on Biodiversity Prize

On 11 September 2020, “Bees, pollination and citizen science in Berlin’s gardens” was awarded the UN Decade on Biodiversity Prize, which recognizes projects and ideas that make a special contribution to the conservation of biodiversity in Germany. It is a welcome parting gift for Egerer, who will soon be finishing her IPODI fellowship and taking up a professorship at TU Munich.

“IPODI has provided me with very useful insights into the German research landscape. It has been an excellent opportunity for me. It is a shame the project is ending for now but I would like to start a joint project between Munich and Berlin to continue this work,” she shares. The sand bee and its fellow bees will thank her.