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2015 Apes Valentes Awards support healthy bees and the students that care about them

Posted: November 20, 2015

What does being a healthy bee mean? The seven students selected for the 2015 Apes Valentes Awards had some very different ideas. To some of them, Apes Valentes (Latin for “healthy bee”) included bumble bees, others honey bees, and to another Japanese orchard bees. Some students sought to identify the flowering plant species that are most nutritious for bees, while others worked on developing new management approaches to help breed and maintain healthy bee populations.

Pollinators of all types have been declining in recent years and the Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State has been at the forefront of efforts to understand the causes of these declines and develop approaches to conserve and support pollinator populations. The 2015 Apes Valentes Awards were made possible to due to the generous support of a private donor, and were competitively awarded to selected undergraduate and graduate students to support research, extension, education, and outreach projects concerning pollinator biology and health.

These awards not only support the pollinators, but also help the students develop new research directions, receive training in communicating their ideas and results to diverse audiences, and, in the case of several of the undergraduate awardees, get their first taste of field or lab research. This year’s awardees include five undergraduate and graduate students from Penn State and two undergraduate students from the University of West Alabama.

2015 Apes Valentes Undergraduate Summer Research Awardees:

Liam Farrell: Liam investigated how landscape nutritional resources affected bumble bee colony growth and reproductive output. He analyzed the nutritional quality of pollen-producing plants in the landscapes using spectrophotometric approaches, collected field data to analyze colony growth, and is continuing this project into the fall to analyze the physiology of individual bees from colonies placed in landscapes with different amounts of nutritional resources. Liam will also use gas chromatography to explore which chemicals in pollen may serve to attract bumble bees to high quality pollen sources. The results of these studies will provide information about the most nutritious plant species for bumble bees, and provide recommendations for pollinator-friendly plantings to improve landscape nutritional quality for bees.

Cierra Kemp: Cierra investigated the mechanisms regulating honey bees' immune responses to viruses. She evaluated the ability of different dietary treatments to improve bees' ability to fight off infections. The results of these studies can provide beekeepers with recommendations for dietary supplements that can reduce viral infections in bee colonies.

Daniel Snellings: Daniel investigated how bumble bee coloration is affected by their diet and environment using spectrophotometric analysis. The results of these studies can provide an easy marker to distinguish healthy or nutritionally limited bumble bee populations.
    
Anna Devin Taylor: Anna investigated the numbers of bumble bee colonies available for pollinating managed pumpkin fields in Pennsylvania using microsatellite analysis to analyze individual DNA. She gathered bee samples and recorded bee visitation rates to flowers in the field, and helped conduct the microsatellite analysis in the lab. Anna will be co-presenting the results of this experiment at the Entomological Society of America annual conference this fall. The results of these studies can provide growers with vital information about the available pollination services for their crops, and whether they need to take steps to improve bee populations to ensure high crop yields.

Megan Wolfson: Megan investigated the role of pheromones in regulating mating behavior in honey bees. A major roadblock to breeding honey bee stocks selected for specific traits is the lack of ability to control mating behavior, and thus identification of these pheromones may provide beekeepers with a new tool to control mating. Megan used chemical analyses to identify the compounds in a putative drone-produced pheromone, and conducted behavioral assays to test if these compounds attracted drones in mating congregation areas.

2015 Apes Valentes Graduates Research Awards:

Mehmet Ali Doke: Mehmet’s research involves the investigation of molecular, physiological, behavioral, social, and ecological factors that regulate honey bee overwintering and the ability of overwintering bees to combat pathogens and parasites. US beekeepers lose an average of 30% of their colonies each winter, and thus identifying the causes for these losses and developing management strategies to reduce these losses will profoundly benefit beekeepers and honey bee populations.

Sarah Shugrue: Sarah’s studies seek to improve management and pollination services of Japanese orchard bees and honey bees in tree fruit orchards. She is currently working on evaluating the role of each species in pollinating tree fruit, and studying the impacts of commonly applied pesticides on these bees. Sarah has also teamed up with the USDA NRCS and the Xerces Society to develop “pollinator plantings” designed to attract pollinators to orchard flowers and provide them with food and nesting resources.

Pollinators come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but all are critical to our agricultural and ecological landscapes. Populations of managed and wild bees are in decline globally due to a wide variety of factors, including poor nutrition, pathogens, parasites, pesticides, and poor genetic stocks. These dedicated Apes Valentes students are exploring creative and novel approaches to addressing these factors, and provide hope for the stabilization and growth of future populations of pollinators in Pennsylvania and the world.