Urban Pollination: sustain native bees & urban crops

DOI: 10.18258/0038
Funded on 1/11/13
Successfully Funded
  • $3,540
  • 101%
  • Funded
    on 1/11/13

About This Project

Bee activity on our crop flowers is crucial to human food security, but bees are also declining around the world. We need to find out how this is affecting people trying to grow food in cities, and what we can do to keep the bees we still have.

Ask the Scientists

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What is the context of this research?

To find out how pollinator services from bumblebees affect crop production in Seattle’s urban community gardens, we study cherry tomato yield. Cherry tomatoes can produce some fruits through self-pollination, but the number and size of fruits increases when they are buzz pollinated by bumblebees (honeybees and many other bees can’t buzz pollinate). We look at differences in pollination efficiency and bee abundance between different urban farming locations. Using the yield of cherry tomatoes as a proxy, we will determine which features of the urban landscape (land use, pesticide use, etc) most affect bee abundance and consequent urban crop yield.

What is the significance of this project?

We study this urban pollination using citizen science. Citizen science is a fairly new model, in which scientists and interested volunteers from the public (“citizen scientists”) collaborate to find the answers to research questions that are important to both. Our volunteers grow tomatoes, observe and identify pollinators, and collect data.

What are the goals of the project?

Volunteer citizen scientists, including P-patch gardeners and K-12 classrooms from all over the city, will grow 3 experimental tomato plants: an open-pollinated control (a regular plant), a self-pollinated plant (covered with a net so bees cannot pollinate flowers), and a plant that receives extra “buzz pollination” with a tuning fork.


  • $3,500Total

The funds will be used to cover the costs of managing the volunteers, such as gas money to get to the p-patches.

Meet the Team

Susan Waters
Susan Waters
Graduate Student


University of Washington
Marie Clifford
Marie Clifford


My research focuses on interactions between native and exotic plant species, as mediated by their shared pollinators. I am particularly interested in how agents of global change such as invasion and climate change may alter these interactions for both plants and pollinators. I pursue this research in three ways: (1) manipulative experiments that investigate the nature of pollinator-mediated native/exotic plant interactions; (2) manipulative experiments that alter the timing of flowering by exotic plant species, examining effects on pollinator visits and on seed production by native plants; and (3) using historical and contemporary data to estimate the overall seasonal pattern of nectar and pollen availability for pollinators along a gradient of invasion (where the proportions of native and exotic plants in the community vary).

Additional Information

One out of every three bites of food we eat is made possible by an insect pollinator visiting a food crop flower. Because of this, conservation of bees is a critical part of maintaining an affordable and abundant food supply. The Urban Pollination Project studies pollination by bumblebees in community gardens in order to find out how to maximize food yield and manage bee decline.

We measure the number and size (volume) of tomatoes produced over the season by each plant. By comparing open vs. self pollinated plants, we can tell how many more tomatoes are produced when plants have the available bumblebees visiting them than they can on their own. By comparing open vs. hand pollinated plants, we can tell whether more pollinator activity would increase tomato production and by how much; in other words, how much more food we could make if more bees were present.

We will publish the results of this study in an urban ecology journal, and provide the results, in plain English, on our website, www.urbanpollinationproject.org, as well. We will also share the results with the City of Seattle.

Image credit: Peggy (http://womanwithwingsblog.blogspot.com)