March 19 - Honey-bee populations around the world have been hit hard by a mysterious phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder which has seen numbers drop dramatically and raised fears about the impact on agriculture and food prices. But a biologist in the U.S. is also concerned about native bees, so he's creating a photographic inventory of all 4,000 North American species in case they too begin to disappear. Rob Muir reports.
It's a painstaking process...but the result, says bioloist Sam Droege, is worthwhile. At his laboratory in Maryland he and lab technician Brooke Alexander are producing spectacular, full colour portraits of bees. And they plan to photograph examples of all 4000 North American species. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SAM DROEGE, BIOLOGIST AT U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY NATIVE BEE INVENTORY AND MONITORING LAB, SAYING: "So one of the things about the bees that I think shows up in our bee portraiture is that they are actually extremely colorful, so when we think about bees, we think mostly of honey bees. Honey bees are a basically brown and tan be , beautiful in it's own right, but when you look at our native species, you are talking metallic colors, metallic greens, blues, blacks with heavy pitting some are highly armored, some are red." But there's more to the project than art. Droege says while concern focusses on the the world's declining honey bee population, wild species which also pollinate crops and sereve as environmental sentinels, are being largely ignored. He wants to change that and, with his photography, he's building a wild bee inventory. Droege and Alexander receive bee specimens from government agencies, researchers and institutions across the country. After being washed, dried and readied for their close-up, the are photgraphed from multiple angles, and merged into one by a software programme. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SAM DROEGE, BIOLOGIST AT U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY BEE INVENTORY AND MONITORING LAB, SAYING: "Well, the photographs we take have two components. One component is simply scientific so that it illustrates our identification guide, which are very technical and can only be seen by a small number of people, but the other aspect is sort of a vehicle for talking and illustrating all the beauty that is the huge variety of 4,000 different species of native bees." And by revealing the beauty of bees to a wider audience, Droege hopes to create a buzz about the importance of keeping them healthy.