The Oregon Bee Atlas just underwent a substantial expansion. 

Hundreds of new native bee species were added to the largest state database for bees and plants in Oregon. They were discovered state-wide, according to an update announcement this month.

This is a part volunteer and citizen scientist project. The atlas came into existence to fill a void because there was a lack of compiled information about Oregon’s bee populations. In each county there are trained volunteers that collect bee specimens. They then share it with the program’s scientists, who collect the data.

The most recent update caused 224 unique bee species to be added to their list, based on data collected in 2019. Now the number of known native bees in Oregon is at 650.

This may seem like a blog post that will only appeal to a narrow audience of Oregon residents. We find it an uplifting story that can inspire us all with hope for bees. We may not always know which bee species they are or where they reside, but this tells us there are countless types of bees out there, alive, and hopefully thriving, that we humans don’t even know exist. This sort of discovery can happen anywhere.

This 1:23-minute video by Oregon Bee Atlas shows the amazing clover seed crop of western Oregon:



Most of these bees are solitary or live in smaller groups, according to Oregon Bee Atlas taxonomist Lincoln Best. They may visit just one plant species in their entire lives. So, this sort of field research also helps us to learn about the plants that are important to the survival of these new bees. It helps us to focus conservation efforts on certain plants and areas.

Best said that greatest conservation actions are to conserve plant communities and plant populations, and to restore damaged areas with native plants. It helps to know which native plants to choose.

The key is to keep the public interested in this project, because the more that volunteers and citizen scientists around the state get involved, the quicker new data can be gathered, and the database expanded even more. Best thinks it is likely that there are hundreds of bees in Oregon that are still undiscovered. Volunteers submitted 25,022 bee specimens from across all Oregon counties for 2019.

First the collection process entails catching the bee, photographing where it was found, and studying the specimen over the winter. Volunteers are trained to identify the bee species, document how it was collected, and which plant it was attracted to. They then pin it down and label it as was done in 18th century insect collections.

Best says that Oregon is at the forefront of such large, almost industrial scale biodiversity inventory and monitoring. This allows them to share this infrastructure with other states and Canadian provinces.

Trained volunteers are essential, according to Chris Marshall, curator at Oregon State University Department of Integrative Biology. It takes time to go over a year’s new data, and as more discoveries are made, the data becomes more refined.

He likens it to comparing a photocopy of a grainy old blurry photograph to a high-resolution color digital image.

Marshall hopes the data and its collection method are helpful to other states and countries so they begin their own datasets and share their information worldwide. 

Explore some of the many native bee species on the Oregon Bee Atlas here.