What is the Minnesota Bumble Bee Atlas?

The Atlas is a public-participation science project aimed at tracking and conserving Minnesota’s bumble bees. Anyone is welcome to participate and contribute to a better understanding of bumble bee needs. The Atlas is a collaboration between the Xerces Society and the University of Minnesota.

How does the Atlas work?

Volunteer scientists, like yourself, spread out across Minnesota to survey bumble bees and are asked to report back whatever you find! We offer workshops that provide you with all of the necessary skills, knowledge, and confidence to run surveys independently. Surveys can be run on your own or with a group of people! Survey methods are catch-and-release, so no bees are harmed, and data collection can be done on your phone.

To fully understand how Minnesota's diverse landscapes, such as the prairie grassland, coniferous forest, deciduous forest, and tallgrass aspen parkland, relate to bumble bees we need widespread participation. The success of the Atlas will come from land owners, agencies, scientists, and you joining together to understand the needs of bumble bees. Explore the UMN Bee Atlas Species Guide to explore background information and maps from the data collected for the UMN Bee Atlas from 2016 to 2020!

Why focus on bumble bees?

Bumble bees are charismatic and easily recognizable pollinators thanks to their large size, loud buzz, and distinctive color patterns. They play an incredibly important role in sustaining the health of our environment by pollinating flowers in natural and urban areas, and by contributing to successful harvests on farms.

Minnesota is home to about 24 different bumble bee species. However, one out of three of our bumble bee species are in trouble and face an uncertain future. Minnesota is one of the few places where we still find the federally endangered rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis). Although not listed federally, four other Minnesota bumble bees are listed as critically endangered with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature: Ashton’s cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus bohemicus), southern plains bumble bee (Bombus fraternus), Suckley’s cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus suckleyi), and variable cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus variabilis). Another three species are listed as vulnerable: the yellow bumble bee (Bombus fervidus), the American bumble bee (Bombus pensylvanicus), and the yellow banded bumble bee (Bombus terricola). Unfortunately, the bumble bee situation in Minnesota bears out across much of North America. A recent study led by the International Union on Conservation of Nature’s Bumble Bee Specialist Group—supported by studies led by Dr. Sydney Cameron—and a status review by the late Dr. Robbin Thorp and the Xerces Society, demonstrate that one quarter of North America's nearly fifty species of bumble bees are undergoing dramatic population declines.

The causes of these declines are not fully understood, but the following are likely at fault: habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change, low genetic diversity, and the introduction and distribution of pathogens through commercial pollinators. Regardless of the ultimate cause of bumble bee declines, protecting and managing existing habitat or creating new habitat are some of the most immediate and productive steps that can be taken to conserve these important pollinators. That’s where the Atlas comes in.

Why is the Atlas valuable?

​In working together, we will be able to increase our understanding of Minnesota’s bumble bees! This project builds on several years of survey efforts by participants in the UMN Bee Atlas Bumble Bee Surveys. By continuing and expanding these survey efforts, we are providing valuable data to be able to track the status of Minnesota’s bumble bees over time. Our team of researchers will be able to use the information to assess species distribution, population shifts, habitat associations, and more. The data will identify regions in Minnesota that are supporting healthy populations, as well as those in need of restoration or management, and highlight landscape features that are associated with bumble bee habitat. Understanding how species distributions have changed over time, in conjunction with habitat change, will help form accurate predictions as to what we should expect in the future, and aid in the design of effective conservation measures.

​With your help, we can quickly cover the entire state, collect high-quality data, and contribute to bumble bee conservation. Our efforts will help conservation biologists, restoration practitioners, and policy makers do a better job protecting, restoring, and managing effective habitat that support healthy bumble bee populations.

​Ready to get involved? See Requirements