New updates come to 'Beescape,' an online tool for supporting pollinators

a bee hotel, a wooden structure filled with empty tubes and wood blocks with drilled holes sits alongside a walking path in a garden bed at The Arboretum at Penn State

This article was originally published September 1, 2023 in Penn State Today

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — New updates have come to Beescape, an online tool created by a Penn State-led team for assessing the quality of landscapes for supporting bees and other pollinators.

Beescape is a mapping tool that allows users to highlight a particular location or area and get information about the habitat quality for bees. The updates include several changes to make the website more interactive and user-friendly, based on feedback given by stakeholders including growers, beekeepers, scientists and conservationists.

Beescape provides information on the amount of flowering plants available to bees (bees depend on floral nectar and pollen for their food), the available nesting habitat (wild bees nest in the ground, in plant stems or branches, or in cavities in trees), and the amount of crop insecticides being used (insecticides can negative effects on bees).

“Many people are excited to create gardens and habitat to support pollinators,” said Christina Grozinger, Publius Vergilius Maro Professor of Entomology. “But it can be hard to know where to start. And, since bees can fly several miles to look for flowering plants, it is important to know what is going on in the broader landscape. Beescape allows people to get a ‘bees’-eye view’ of their gardens, neighborhoods and farms so they can better plan how to create a landscape that can best support bees.”

For example, Grozinger noted, if Beescape indicates that there are not a lot of nesting habitats for wild bees in the area, gardeners might want to add a solitary bee hotel or leave some bare ground to support ground-nesting bees.

One of the new features in Beescape includes information on the monthly average temperature and total precipitation and how these compare to the 10-year averages for the selected location.

Studies from Penn State have shown that too cold or hot summer weather, or too little or too much rain, leads to poor winter survival of honey bee colonies in Pennsylvania. Researchers believe that poor summer conditions limit the flowering plants that bees depend on for their food. About 50% of honey bee colonies managed by beekeepers in Pennsylvania die each winter.

“Beescape gives beekeepers data from their local context to help alert them with early warnings for poor weather conditions and other potential threats to pollinator health,” said Anthony Robinson, associate professor of geography, director of the GeoGraphics Lab at Penn State and co-principal investigator on the Beescape project. “It can help beekeepers make decisions on what to do next to help their colonies survive the winter.”

The updated Beescape also includes information on the amount of economic value that pollination services by bees and other insects contribute to agricultural production in the user-selected area.

“Our previous studies showed that insect pollinators contributed $34 billion to agricultural production in the United States in 2012,” said Vikas Khanna, Wellington C. Carl Faculty Fellow and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Pittsburg and a co-principal investigator on the Beescape project. “With Beescape, people can now see how much economic value pollinators are adding to farms in their local areas.”

Additional updates include:

  • More flexibility in selecting the size and shape of the landscape areas the user wants to assess.
  • More detailed information about the types of land use and habitats in the selected areas.
  • Information on pollinators and flowering plants that are currently present in the landscape, which can help users know which plants will provide floral resources in their area during specific months.

Future updates to the tool will add the ability to map how floral resources, nesting habitat and insecticides are distributed through the landscape. The Beescape platform is designed in collaboration with Penn State’s Institute for Computational and Data Sciences.

For more information on pollinators and developing pollinator habitat, please visit the Penn State Center for Pollinator Research website.

Beescape is supported by funding from the USDA-NIFA-AFRI Data Science for Food and Agricultural Systems Program. Additional collaborators include Sarah Goslee, USDA-ARS Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research; David McLaughlin, Penn State Institute for Computational and Data Sciences; Eric Lonsdorf, assistant professor at Emory University; and Maggie Douglas, assistant professor at Dickinson College.

For more information, visit Beescape’s website.