Research Methods: Pan Trapping

This spring, most students in the Sustainability and Food Studies graduate programs are in a Research Methods class learning about different ways of conducting research. There are numerous groups of students working on a variety of research projects, employing several different methods, including surveying, interviewing and Q methodology. I am in the Ecological Research section and am working with three other students researching pollinator populations in relation to increasing urbanization.

Pollinators are responsible for propagating the majority of our plants worldwide, but little is understood about the effects of urbanization on the symbiotic relationship between plants and pollinators. With the rise in urbanization, pollinators and their native habitats are rapidly changing and potentially at serious risk. It is necessary to study these risks in order to mitigate the problem.

We are studying the presence of bees and other insects on an urban to rural gradient in order to understand how this land use change affects pollinators. This study will help us understand the difference in pollinator presence between urban and rural habitats. Using the Larimer neighborhood, near Chatham’s East Side campus, and Chatham’s Eden Hall campus as sites, we will be able to use this data to better understand how Chatham can foster healthy pollinator habitats.


To collect data at our sites we are collecting pollinators through pan traps, which is a very common method of analyzing pollinator diversity among researchers. Pan traps are plastic cups or bowls filled with soapy water that are brightly colored, usually blue, yellow and white. The insects are attracted to the colorful bowls and the soap is added to the water to decrease the surface tension, which allows even small insects to sink and drown when landing on the surface of the water.

This is a risky time to be doing this type of research, since there are very few things in bloom and it is still chilly outside. Ideally, there would be lots of flowers in bloom and therefore lots of active insects. This is still early in the spring for there to be much excitement at our sites. This is one of the limitations of our study because our semester ends at the end of April. We are happy to report that we have caught something! We were excited because we were nervous we weren’t going to catch anything!


We are anxious to see what our research reveals about the comparison of bees and other insects in our rural versus urban sites. As limited as our research may be, due to amount of time we can spend on it in the remainder of the semester and the time of year, we are hoping that our protocol for this research will be replicated in the future by Chatham students!


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