University of Sydney PhD student Amelie Vanderstock is passionate about native bees. Currently researching the role of urban community gardens and bushland for native bees and investigating how citizen science can advance public pollinator education, Amelie enjoys co-creating science with communities through playfulness. Read about her research journey and the Native Bee ID community skillshares.
My native bee identification workshops began when I found myself buried in thousands of pollinating insect specimens collected with enthusiastic volunteers in community gardens over summer. I was so lucky to spend three months exploring these hidden patches of Sydney greenery, learning from the passionate, knowledgeable gardeners who held such curiosity for the bees, flies and wasps they would see on their herbs.
I thrive on meeting new people, rich conversations and sharing curiosities. So, when came the time to sit alone in a laboratory with a microscope and taxonomic keys to identify these bees to species- I thought, surely the honeymoon can’t be over?
I remembered how exciting it was going to Uni and using microscopes for the first time. And I remembered how much the gardeners wanted to recognise the insects they were observing… These combined, wouldn’t it be fun to open the lab to the public and learn how to identify the insects from our community, with our community?
So, my “Native Bee ID skillshares” began. After an introduction to insect pollinators and their ecological role we would sit in the lab and learn to use dichotomous keys and online databases to identify my boxes of pinned bees, together.
And it was so playful! People of all ages became citizen scientists as we gradually built our common knowledge on the diversity of bees in Sydney.
In these first workshops, a participant shared: “I used to think they were all honeybees. Now I see that bees are different colours and sizes. I look at insects on flowers in a whole new way…I’m going to plant borage and basil”.
In our urban greenspaces, it’s children, gardeners and volunteer bush regenerators who will be growing the changes in our landscape that will ‘save the bees’. By planting flowers all year round, being mindful of their chemical inputs and conserving and restoring urban bushland- the public are creating and redesigning our urban ecologies.
Listening to people with direct experience is the most valuable part of our science communication. Offering opportunities to up-skill using the resources that as researchers we have access to, is an opportunity to open our science to relevant questions with direct impact. Doing so means we are not only communicating facts and findings, but fostering environments where the public are actively involved in knowledge production- to grow the changes we need to support our urban pollinators.
I recently participated in the launch of The University of Sydney’s Citizen Science node, a collaborative network that brings diverse disciplines and researchers together to achieve the common goal of accelerating research outcomes with more widely understood impact.
Through the node, the public will be empowered to share their knowledge and experiences in the practice of citizen science projects and also generate new research questions that can be answered through citizen science.
The Citizen Science node was officially launched at the Charles Perkins Centre in June, where the video below about Let’s BEE Scientists was screened as well as another short video about a tick borne diseases project.
Let’s BEE Scientists is a project where high school students co-designed an experiment to learn about their local pollinators which they, the primary school students and their families collected data for together.
What I loved most was witnessing the transition of these high-schoolers from students to co-researchers, as they integrated experimental design principles and facilitated the scientific engagement of their siblings.
And I can’t get over the incredibly creative science communication pieces that the students made throughout; songs, poems, posters, jewellery, even a movie trailer! These remind me of how valuable it is to invite those we wish to communicate our science to into the process of science making. The creativity and relevance of how these young people share their results and experience of pollinators is both captivating and convincing. Their journey and communication pieces can be found at letsbeescientists.weebly.com.
Upcoming Native Bee workshops on the horizon are See like a bee at the Blue mountains Cultural Centre on 12 July for kids.
You can also find me at Sydney Science Festival with “Super Native bees” at Science in the Wild (Mt Annan Botanic Garden) on the 11 August, and Science in the Swamp (Centennial Parklands) on the 18 August.
I’ll also be bringing a musical interpretation of my research to the University of Sydney Al- Zr of the Periodic Table variety show on the 14 August.
Get in touch
Amelie facilitates workshops for all ages on native bees: how to recognise them, where to find them and what we can do to support them. To learn more about Amelie’s research and workshops, visit Crosspollinating.org. You can also follow Amelie on Instagram: amelie_ecology.