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It has been proven that insects are absolutely essential for the survival of many plants. While wind, water, and other animals all play a role in pollination, the power of the insects in this process is phenomenal! Bumblebees (Bombus species) are essential for the pollination of a variety of prairie plants. As the only native bee, bumblebees have been doing their job for thousands of years. Currently, our ecosystems are becoming more disturbed, and scientists are concerned about the status of the bumblebee population. You are being asked to design a study that may help determine factors that could impact the bumblebee OR may predict the consequences of a reduced bumblebee population.

Bumblebees (Bombus species) are native to Illinois. Furthermore, they are the exclusive pollinators of several rare and endangered plant species. Scientists and other Bombus observers are concerned about environmental factors that may impact the bumblebee. Atmospheric quality, the introduction of the domestic honeybee and continued encroachment of the human population into what were once open meadows and prairies all can provide a negative influence on the Bombus species.

Without the bumblebees, we would lose potentially valuable flora and further limit the gene pool. Within the remnants of tallgrass prairie there may be answers to some of the most puzzling questions of the medical community. Since the bumblebee is integral to the success of many plants, a negative influence on the Bombus species could be catastrophic!

Bombus species vary from place to place. Species foraging in northern Illinois may not be present in southern Illinois. Individual state natural history surveys, state colleges and universities, and the US Department of Agriculture may be able to provide additional information for your site.

Carefully discuss what you already know, determine the factor upon which you will need to focus, research your topic, observe the insects in action, and organize your data in the form of a presentation to be delivered to the class. YOUR DATA WILL BE PASSED ON TO ENVIRONMENTAL BIOLOGISTS FOR THEIR CONSIDERATION.

Few native Illinoians are aware of the fact that the once 40,000 square miles of virgin prairie in this state alone has been reduced to less than 4! You have at your doorstep a vanishing ecosystem that has simply slipped away with little fanfare. You may provide vital data to help ensure the maintenance of the little prairie that remains!

Author: Patricia Franzen, Madison Junior High School, Naperville,Illinois.
Handbook of Engaged Learning Projects sponsored by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Education Office and Friends of Fermilab. Funded by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL).
Created: July 1, 1996 - Updated: July 24, 1996