Bee Conservation in Pennsylvania

From attitude to action:

Mapping the drivers of individuals’ perceptions and practices related to bee conservation in Pennsylvania 

Co-Leaders: Shannon Cruz, Assistant Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences

Christina Grozinger, Distinguished Professor of Entomology, Director of the Center for Pollinator Research

Biodiversity declines are widespread, but few are so noticeable as bees, a species that provides critical pollination services for flowering plants (encompassing 90% of flowering plants and 75% of our major agricultural crops), and thus are vital contributors to health and resilience of our agricultural and natural ecosystems. The factors driving biodiversity declines are addressable at the local scale, since increasing the abundance and diversity of flowering plants, providing habitat for nesting, and reducing pesticide use can increase local bee abundance and species richness.

Calls to protect pollinator populations are widespread, having been spearheaded by groups such as the Pollinator Partnership and Xerces Society, and also used in corporate and industry advertising (e.g., campaigns by Häagen-Dazs and General Mills in which portions of their sales support bee research). In 2014, a Presidential Memorandum on pollinators shaped a federal strategy to support and expand pollinator populations, which included goals to reduce honey bee winter mortality, increase monarch butterfly populations, and increase the acreage of pollinator habitat on federal lands.  In 2016, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) produced a report on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production.

Many of these groups have acknowledged that communication and outreach are vital for the success of pollinator conservation initiatives, but surprisingly little research has been conducted on the social dimensions of pollinator protection. Creating meaningful behavior change is likely to require not just the provision of information about how to protect pollinators, but the development of communication campaigns that persuade people they should protect them.

Thus, a campaign to promote pollinator-friendly practices will be most effective if we (1) understand how beliefs and feelings about pollinators are structured, then (2) design messages to take advantage of that structure.

To identify the structure of beliefs and attitudes toward pollinators and relevant audience characteristics, we propose to survey Pennsylvania residents about their knowledge, beliefs, and perceptions of bees; their personal characteristics; and their bee conservation behaviors. The survey will be pilot tested in Fall 2020 with Penn State students, revised as needed, then sent to residents. We plan to analyze the data using both semantic network analysis and newer approaches to network psychometrics, then develop messages by using network-based approaches to argument quality. We anticipate that this preliminary study will have substantial applied value by serving as formative research for future communication campaigns designed to encourage bee conservation across the state and by contributing to a growing body of work on connectionist approaches to persuasion in communication.