National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
Conserving Bumble Bees
9 - 12
This lesson introduces the importance of bumble bees and other pollinators. Using a case study approach, students will examine bumble bee population surveys and use the scientific method to discuss possible causes for the decline of pollinators. Students will then determine which land management conservation strategies in agricultural ecosystems are most successful in attracting and supporting bumble bee populations.
- 1 tomato or picture of a tomato
- Conserving Bumble Bees student worksheet, 1 per student
- Conserving Bumble Bees: Teacher Key
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
bumble bee: a large hairy bee with a loud hum which aids in the pollination of flowers and lives in small colonies in holes underground
buzz pollination: a technique used by some bees in which the bee hangs upside down on a flower and vibrates her wing muscles causing the release of large amounts of pollen
confounding factor: a variable that is not able to be controlled by the scientist and may impact the dependent variable
control group: a group that does not receive a treatment; minimized the effects of variables other than the independent variable; allows for comparison of treatment effects
dependent variable: a factor that can is measured over the course of an experiment; change will be based on the independent variable
honey bee: a stinging winged insect that collects nectar and pollen, produces wax and honey, and aids in the pollination of flowers
independent variable: a factor that is changed by the scientist
pollination: the transfer of pollen from the anthers of a flower to the stigma of the same flower or of another flower
replication: multiple runs of the same experimental conditions are conducted to determine if an outcome is consistent and predictable; reduces variability in experimental results, increasing their significance and the confidence level with which a researcher can draw conclusions about an experimental factor
Did you know? (Ag Facts)
- Bumble bees can easily be distinguished from honey bees. Bumble bees have a large, fuzzy body with thick bands of yellow and black.1
- Bumble bees do make honey, but only in small amounts. Their greatest value is to aid in the pollination of flowers.1
- Bumble bees live for one season before they die.1
- Bumble bees leave a scent mark on the flowers they have visited. This saves other bees time by telling them that the flower has already been probed for nectar.2
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Show students a tomato or picture of a tomato. Have students discuss and list what is needed to produce tomatoes.
- Facilitate discussion about the need for proper growing conditions (soil, nutrients, light, temperature, moisture) and adequate pollination. Be sure students understand that pollination allows the plant to produce the fruit and seeds.
- Ask students how pollination takes place in the flower of a tomato plant. If they answer "bees," ask them what kind of bees? Are there different kinds of bees and pollinating insects? (Yes)
- Ask students what the difference is between a honey bee and a bumble bee. Compare and contrast the two bees. Inform students that they will be learning about the bumble bee today.
Part 1: Value of Pollinators and Introducing the Problem
- Distribute one copy of the Conserving Bumble Bees worksheet to each student.
- Read "Part 1: Value of Pollinators" with students to provide context for the issue of conserving bumble bees.
- Following the reading, discuss the agricultural and natural ecosystem implications if bumble bees were no longer providing pollination services. Consider discussing questions such as:
- Could other pollinators take the place of bumble bees? (No, bumble bees are some of the few species that can buzz pollinate.)
- What would happen to wild plants that rely on bumble bees for pollination? (If no other pollinator could adequately pollinate these plants, no seeds would be produced and the plant population would decline or possibly become extinct.)
- What effect might the loss of bumble bees have on consumers? (Crops pollinated by bumble bees would likely be more expensive, or might be unavailable.)
- Continue reading "Part 1" of the worksheet, The Problem: Pollinators in Peril with students.
- Using what they learned from the reading, have students explain how scientists can tell if a species is in decline or not. Students should understand that:
- Historical baseline data is necessary to determine if populations are declining.
- In some cases, historical data or counts are simply not available making it impossible to provide evidence of population declines.
- Consistent and repeatable survey methods are very important when comparing historical abundance counts to current abundance counts.
- Discuss the concept of measuring relative abundance which was explained in the reading. Relative abundance is one way of determining if the proportion of each species has remained stable over time or has changed. You may wish to provide students with a relatable example by comparing relative abundance of girls to boys in the class (# of girls/total vs. #of boys/total).
- Have students examine Figure 4 on page 2 of the worksheet.
- Answer the questions as a whole class or in small groups. Discuss answers and clarify as needed.
- Once students are confident in reading a graph of relative abundance, assign them to decipher the graphs in Figure 5 and answer the three follow-up questions on pages three and four.
Part 2: Likely Culprits of Bumble Bee Decline?
- Now that students have seen evidence of population decline in some bumble bee species, they can begin to formulate ideas or hypotheses of why this decline might be happening. Provide a very brief discussion of what bumble bees need to survive. Refer students to page 4 of the worksheet which contains the following list:
- High-quality habitat for nesting
- Plentiful food and water resources nearby throughout the spring, summer, and fall
- An environment relatively free of pests, parasites, pathogens, and pesticides
- Continue your class discussion by asking students to brainstorm and formulate hypotheses about factors that might impact bumble bee populations. As you discuss various hypotheses, point out to students that some factors or causes of the bumble bee decline may be driven by human actions.
- Instruct students to complete "Part 2" of the worksheet. They will read an excerpt from a blog post by Matt Miller from the Nature Conservancy and answer four questions.
- After completing "Part 2," facilitate a discussion comparing the factors they came up with and some of the factors discussed in the blog post. Possible discussion topics could include:
- Were any factors missing?
- Did any factors surprise you?
- What actions should be taken to help conserve pollinators?
Part 3: Taking a Closer Look at Habitat Loss
- Assign students to read "Part 3" of the Conserving Bumble Bees handout in small groups and have students discuss how land has changed over time.
- Discuss the role of humans in land use and the importance of balancing food, fuel, and fiber production with the sustainable use of natural resources (such as converting land from native prairie to agricultural production).
- Note: As a supplement to this discussion, you may have students read the article, "The Enormous Threat to America's Last Grasslands" from The Washington Post which was published on June 16, 2016 about the threat to grasslands in the U.S.
- This section provides a great opportunity to facilitate a discussion about how to decide what land is used for agricultural production and what land should be left undisturbed to protect biodiversity. Consider the following questions:
- Should money be spent to protect animals such as bumble bees and the native plants they pollinate?
- Who should make this decision?
- What factors should be considered when making this decision?
- Assign students to work individually or in small groups to design an experiment to test the effect of land management strategies on bumble bee abundance.
- Discuss each group's experimental designs as a whole class. Be sure students mention the following:
- The independent and dependent variables
- The control treatment
- How the experiment can/will be replicated
- Confounding factors that should be considered
- Read the section in the worksheet titled Examining the Effectiveness of Conservation Strategies found in "Part 3."
- Have students examine Figure 8 which is a graph of bee forage flower abundance in relation to number of bumble bees.
- Assign students to answer the follow-up questions on page 9. Expand the topic with a class discussion about the trends they observed across land management types for:
- Bee forage flower abundance
- Number of bumble bees
- Also discuss:
- What correlation or relationship do they see between these two variables?
- Which land management strategy would they recommend to growers?
- Have students reflect on what they have learned about bumble bee decline and conservation strategies. How can they use the data presented to inform agricultural policy?
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, summarize and review the following key concepts:
- Bumble bees and other pollinators are important to the production of most food crops.
- There is evidence of a reduction in bee colonies across the United States. There are many potential contributing factors.
- How land is used is an important topic in agriculture and our society.
- Various land management techniques exist to preserve the quality and biodiversity of land while still allowing it to be farmed in order to produce food, fiber, and fuel for our population.
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
Suggested Companion Resources
- Amazing Time-Lapse: Bees Hatch Before Your Eyes (Multimedia)
- Conserving Pollinators: A Primer for Gardeners (Website)
- Pollen Gallery (Website)
- Utah State University Bee Lab (Website)
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Agriculture and the Environment
- Describe how wildlife habitats are created and maintained by farmers and why these habitats are important (e.g., promoting pollinator habitat, insect refuges, creating buffer zones for nutrient management, etc.) (T1.9-12.a)
Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy
- Discuss reasons for government’s involvement in agricultural production, processing, and distribution (T2.9-12.c)
Science, Technology, Engineering & Math
- Describe how agricultural practices have contributed to changes in societies and environments over time (T4.9-12.b)
Education Content Standards
Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources Cluster Skills
CS.01.01Research, examine and discuss issues and trends that impact AFNR systems on local, state, national, and global levels.
CS.04.01Identify and implement practices to steward natural resources in different AFNR systems.
HS-LS2 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
HS-LS2-1Use mathematical and/or computational representations to support explanations of factors that affect carrying capacity of ecosystems at different scales.
Common Core Connections
Reading: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Mathematics: Practice Standards
CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP4Model with mathematics. Students can apply the mathematics they know to solve problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace. Students who can apply what they know are comfortable making assumptions and approximations to simplify a complicated situation, realizing that these may need revision later. They are able to identify important quantities in a practical situation and map their relationships using such tools as diagrams, two-way tables, graphs, flowcharts and formulas. They can analyze those relationships mathematically to draw conclusions.
CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP7Look for and make use of structure. Students look closely to discern a pattern or structure. They recognize the significance of an existing line in a geometric figure and can use the strategy of drawing an auxiliary line for solving problems. They also can step back for an overview and shift perspective. They can see complicated things, such as some algebraic expressions, as single objects or as being composed of several objects.