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  • Christina Williams

Mission Franklini is on a, well, mission

Let the Mission Franklini team tell you a story.


Team Mission Franklini from Rogue Community College.

It starts like this:


Twenty years ago, researcher Robbin Thorp observed that two Oregon bumblebee species were disappearing at alarming rates. One of those species was Franklin’s bumblebee (Bombus franklini). With only outdated tools and methods at his disposal, Thorp struggled to identify and prove the cause their decline, until, in 2006, Robbin Thorp saw his last Franklin’s Bumblebee. Dr. Thorp is not alone. More than half of North America's 4,000 native species have been shown to be in serious decline. From forests to prairies, entire ecosystems rely on these little pollinators. We are using technology to provide scientists with a tool that will revolutionize their ability to monitor bee populations and identify sources of harm. We want to make sure no other species suffers the fate of Franklin’s bumblebee.

The team set out to do that by helping scientists track the population of native bees by building a device that traps them, photographs them, marks them and then release them.


“When marked bees return to a trap, they will be discounted from population data – a far more accurate method than the visual counts currently being done by scientists,” explains Nicholas Mantheakis. “The marker left on bees will also show up in areas they have visited, allowing scientists to track where bees have gone and possible sources of harm.”

Mission Franklini's Nicholas Mantheakis (PhotosByKim.com)

The team’s initial target market is federal and state research scientists and universities, but they also see potential in agriculture and pest-control markets.


But mainly, they want to prevent future extinctions.


“Our device also provides early warnings,” Mantheakis says. “It once took years to recognize a species was in decline, our device will show these die-offs in a matter of weeks; allowing scientists to take preemptive action to avoid extinctions like that of Franklin’s bumblebee.”


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