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Richard Maltzman
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Bee a Pyramid Climber

A wing and a leg.

Sounds like a chicken dinner, right?

Not in this case.  This post is about bumblebee wings, bumblebee legs, pyramids, and the advancement of data into information into wisdom, into data.

First of all, let’s talk about that advancement of data.  In a book I co-authored with Loredana Abramo, entitled Bringing the PM Competency Gap, we describe this advancement using a puzzle as an example, we look at two axes, the vertical being the “Degree of connectedness” of data, and the horizontal axis being the level of understanding we have of that data.

When both are low – that is, the data points aren’t connected (at least apparently) with each other, and we don’t have a high level of understanding of the data, it is indeed, just … data.  In our example, we are presented with random shapes of random colors – we don’t know if they have anything to do with each other, and we don’t know what they are.

As both of these attributes advance, things change.  With a little more understanding and a degree of connectedness, we can tell that “wait a second, these are puzzle pieces!” and we can tell that they are meant to be connected.

Moving further up to the northeast, with more connectedness and understanding, we can assemble the puzzle pieces but still don’t know what image is on the puzzle.

Finally, with a great amount of connectedness (an assembled puzzle) and recognition of the image, we can see that this is a tropical aquarium.

 Graphical user interface    Description automatically generated

Side note: for those of you watching Martin Short and Steve Martin’s wonderful “Only Murders In the Building”, you know that this is exactly what Mabel does to help solve mysteries. Conveniently, and obviously representing some sort of karma, Selena Gomez (in the role of Mabel) is highlighted here in black and yellow - bumblebee colors!

Only Murders in the Building Recap: Season 2, Episode 7 — Mabel's Dad |  TVLine

This advancement of data to information to knowledge to wisdom is called the DIKW Pyramid.  It’s worth reading about because that’s a big part of what we do as project managers!  Indeed, this is what you did when you presented at last week’s project review meeting, where you took bunches of data and caused it to make sense to the stakeholders.  You may not have known you were climbing the DIKW pyramid, but you were!

Let’s get back to the bees, starting from the conclusion – the wisdom they gained – and then looking at how this team of researchers climbed that same pyramid.  The story comes from the recent article, “Museum collections indicate bees increasingly stressed by changes in climate over the past 100 years” published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

From the article:

Studying four UK bumblebee species, the group found evidence for stress getting higher as the century progressed from its lowest point around 1925. Further analysis showed that each bee species displayed a consistently higher proxy of stress in the latter half of the century.  They used DNA sequences from museum specimens – drawing from wings and a single leg from each insect in the collection.  That’s a ton of data – which they advanced into knowledge and wisdom.

Learning from the past to predict the future

By taking the climate conditions during the year of collection – namely annual mean temperature and annual rainfall – the team found that in hotter and wetter years bees showed higher wing asymmetry. The study is published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology.


This is important.  We all know that climate and weather are not the same.  Small ups and downs would be expected in terms of stress in insect populations, reflecting relatively small ups and downs in weather.  But if there is a continuous trend, over almost a century, that’s worth noting, from which it’s  worth making decisions and reliable observations.  According to the authors (and quoting the article):

Author Aoife Cantwell-Jones, from the Department of Life Sciences (Silwood Park) at Imperial, said: “By using a proxy of stress visible on the bee’s external anatomy and caused by stress during development just days or weeks before, we can look to more accurately track factors placing populations under pressure through historic space and time.”

Author Dr Andres Arce, now at the University of Suffolk, stated: “Our goal is to better understand responses to specific environmental factors and learn from the past to predict the future. We hope to be able to forecast where and when bumblebees will be most at risk and target effective conservation action.”

So the lessons learned here:

  1. As a project leader, you have more in common with Selena Gomez than you think
  2. You are often – or at least you should often be – climbing up the DIKW pyramid
  3. Big data is only that – a big pile of data – unless there is a high degree of understanding and connectedness between data points



*Arce, A., Cantwell-Jones, A., Tansley, M., Barnes, I., Brace, S., Mullin, V., Notton, D., Ollerton, J., Eatough, E., Rhodes, M., Bian, X., Hogan, J., Hunter, T., Jackson, S., Whiffin, A., Blagoderov, V., Broad, G., Judd, S., Kokkini, P., Livermore, L., Dixit, M., Pearse, W. & Gill, R. (2022) Signatures of increasing environmental stress in bumblebee wings over the past century: Insights from museum specimens. Journal of Animal Ecology (in press).

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: August 18, 2022 11:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

"My way of joking is to tell the truth. It is the funniest joke in the world."

- George Bernard Shaw