Park funds pollinator research project

Shenandoah National Park has announced the first project under a new research grant program, according to a Feb. 20 news release.

The first project to receive funding from the grant is called “Catch the Buzz,” which is the brainchild of Dr. Jessica Rykken of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

The research project will look at pollinator species from within the park to assess population, taxonomy, distribution and plant association.

Jim Schaberl, the park’s chief of natural and cultural resources, noted that this research will fill “an information shortfall” for the park.

“We don’t know a lot about the insects, arthropods and other critters in the park,” Schaberl said, noting that a project like this is typically “more difficult to fund.”

Schaberl said the park is “concerned about pollinators in general” due to recent research concerning stressors on pollinator populations.

The Environmental Protection Agency has noted that many factors including pesticide dispersal, Colony Collapse Disorder — a phenomenon where worker bees “abandon” the queen bee — and even invasive mites can contribute to declining pollinator populations.

“With that concern in mind, and knowing that we don’t know much about the critters, [this research] is a perfect fit for the next step in learning about these species,” Schaberl said.

According to Karen Beck-Herzog, the park’s public affairs officer, Rykken will be receiving $15,000 for the research.

The Shenandoah National Park Trust provided the money for this research fund, added Beck-Herzog.

Schaberl, “They are kind of our philanthropic, fund-raising arm” that can provide money for research that Park Service employees cannot.

“About two years ago, we pitched an idea that we would like a recurring grant where each year, we would ask people to submit grants,” Schaberl said.

During the application period of August to October, Beck-Herzog noted that the park received seven applications for research projects within the park.

According to Schaberl, Rykken’s research proposal stood out as being “very timely” for the park’s informational needs, on top of being “well-crafted, and well-written and well-researched.”

Rykken could not be reached for a comment on this story.

On top of providing new information, Schaberl said that Rykken’s proposal included the establishment of a citizen scientist “cookbook.”

The research Rykken has proposed, Schaberl explained, will represent a snapshot in time of pollinator species within the park.

Basically, this “cookbook” or protocol is intended for a team of interested citizens willing to carry out “the long-term monitoring of these bee and syrphid fly species.”

This monitoring would, Schaberl noted, be annual efforts that would help keep the park up-to-date on the population trends of bee and other pollinator species.

“Federal funding is not great right now, so it’s these kinds of efforts, where … outside grants really make a difference,” Schaberl said.

In a broad sense, Schaberl said that having updated information on pollinators would work as “timely information” to “match up with” the threats facing certain pollinator species.

“For a modestly-funded project, it seems like we are getting a great bang for our buck here,” Schaberl said.

More information about future grants can be found on the park’s website: http://tinyurl.com/p2tbaub.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com