“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do something I can do.”
― Helen Keller
I have been studying insects for over 20 years, and during this period I have been witness to much concern over the decline of pollinators, including my beloved bees. A significant portion of my research over the years has focussed on conserving bees and the vital service they provide. As an ecologist, much of this has been "hands on" and I have spent a great deal of time on farms, in natural habitats, and in the laboratory. Next week, I will start a new chapter in helping bees and many other arthropods in Canada, serving with the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), a group that assesses and designates which species in Canada are at risk of disappearing from our country using a process based not only on the knowledge of scientists like me, but also Aboriginal knowledge, and general "community" knowledge. There are a lot of people that "know their stuff" when it comes to the co-inhabitants of our planet it is nice we all have a voice in protecting species!
Fortunately, I have some previous experience with COSEWIC, having prepared the status report for the Macropis Cuckoo Bee, a bee species I rediscovered in Nova Scotia over 10 years ago while I was a graduate student; a drawing of this bee hangs on the wall in my office at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. This species had not been seen anywhere for about 60 years, and only three specimens have been seen ever since (and I collected two of them!). The Macropis Cuckoo Bee has an interesting life history, as it is a nest parasite (or cuckoo) of another, somewhat rare bee that specializes on flowers that produce oil.
As such, both species of bee can only be found in association with these plants, and luckily, both species have been recorded from Saskatchewan...at least in the past.
Interestingly, it was around the time of my discovery that COSEWIC even began assessing the status of arthropods...umm....other than butterflies and moths, and rightly so – arthropods are the most diverse group of animals. In 1979, around 66,000 arthropod species (54,000 insects) were estimated for Canada, but since then the figure has dropped to about 45,000 species. No one knows for certain how many arthropods we have here, but for comparison, less than 2000 total species of fresh water fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals are known from Canada. Also around the time of my discovery, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in Canada established COSEWIC as an advisory body, the direct link to protecting species at risk.
So I am now in a position to apply what I have learned over the years to help other species in Canada, and will spend long hours in rooms with friends and colleagues discussing the "buggy" things we all love, learning lots of knew things from many people, and of course, reading lots of reports. This is quite different from my past experiences with bees, but ultimately much more important as it applies the knowledge that many have gained to help assess and protect our species. Museums like the Royal Saskatchewan Museum have essential roles to play in protecting our species as the collections they house and protect are the sources of much of the information by which we assess the changes in species abundance and distribution over time. It is quite an honour for me, and I echo the words of Helen Keller's stated above; I hope to make a worthwhile contribution to protecting species in Canada.