A senior at Gonzaga thinks university campuses can increase biodiversity — and is taking photos to prove it

click to enlarge A senior at Gonzaga thinks university campuses can increase biodiversity — and is taking photos to prove it
A western bumble bee deep in a calla lily exam.

The next time you see a bee, butterfly or hummingbird fluttering around Gonzaga's campus, make sure to snap a photo for Sophie O'Shei's senior project.

O'Shei, a rising senior studying biology, plans to use these photos to determine which pollinators are more common on campus and what plants they prefer in hopes of providing the university with information to help support their populations.

Photos can be submitted on iNaturalist, a social networking program that identifies plants and wildlife to increase biodiversity knowledge among its users.

"By making use of the community to gather more data, it should give us the opportunity to get a much more comprehensive picture of pollinator diversity on campus and ways that we can support that," says O'Shei.

Pollinators are more active during the summer months, says O'Shei, so photos can be submitted to her project page from now until the end of September to curate an illustrative body of information to analyze.

Over the past year, O'Shei worked with biology professor Gary Chang's research group to study the European wool carder bee, a new arrival to Spokane's pollinator community, and whether or not it poses a risk to native bee populations in Spokane.

Chang's research group piqued O'Shei's interest in pollinator conservation and finding more ways to help support their populations, many of which Chang says are declining due to climate change and habitat loss.

"We often take for granted the services that they provide," Chang says. "On that level, it's sort of motivation for trying to understand how to conserve native pollinators."

While O'Shei wants to collect photos of a variety of pollinator species, native insects such as the western bumble bee are a primary focus of her project.

A 2022 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that western bumble bee populations in the western U.S. decreased by about half from 1998 to 2020.

"When we have these environments that are curated by humans, we can make choices that either support or don't support those populations," O'Shei says.

O'Shei chose to focus her research on Gonzaga's campus because of the unique role the campus could have in supporting pollinator populations.

"A lot of research has shown that urban environments, especially places like college campuses that have a lot of landscaping, and decisions that are made around landscaping, provide an opportunity for us to basically create refuges for biodiversity and to increase populations that might be declining," O'Shei says.

Chang says that since insects are so small and are good at dispersing to a variety of locations, supporting their populations is pretty simple.

"They can take advantage of small patches of habitat to a sort of better extent than some of the larger animals and plants that have limitations in their dispersibility and require more area," he says. "It doesn't take a gigantic nature preserve or something like that to actually have a real impact on improving the conservation of the species."

O'Shei says that Gonzaga's grounds crew currently does a great job of creating habitats for bees and other insects, but she wants to create more biodiversity on campus in the future.

"I think a lot of it comes down to just learning as much as we can about pollinators and the plants they prefer so that we can share that information with the grounds crew, and then they can make decisions in the future based off of that information," she says.

O'Shei plans to spend the fall and winter analyzing the data, with potential plans to share her findings during Earth Week next year, but until then she needs help collecting as many photos as possible.

"The process for signing up and using iNaturalist is pretty easy, and the more people that we can get involved, the better data we can collect," she says. ♦