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Student Research Spotlight - Erin Treanore

Posted: February 19, 2016

This is the 1st of thirteen short news articles written by students, during the professional development class, about each other's research.

Giving (bumble) bees a chance
By Virginia Zanni

Bumble bees are like humans: they need high quality food to be healthy.

Erin Treanore, a graduate student in the Department of Entomology at Penn State University is working to provide better nutrition for bees in Pennsylvania’s farmlands. Treanore is monitoring the attraction of the common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) on flowering plant species planted in proximity to the crops. Her studies will determine which flowering plant species are both favoured by the pollinators and the healthiest for them.

“A lot of money is being used for habitat restoration for bees in farmlands”, she says, “For these programs to be effective, we need to know how different flowering plant species affect bumble bee populations”.

As their more famous “cousins” honey bees, bumble bees are one of the key pollinators for a number of plant species that provide us with food and wildflowers; but sadly in the last decades many populations of bumble bees are collapsing at an alarming rate in all the northern hemisphere. The lack of high quality food resources is one of the reasons for this decline.

Fortunately Pennsylvania is a state with low environmental impact agriculture, characterized by small farms and presence of natural areas that support wild bumble bee populations. Thus, farmers can rely on these wild bumble bee populations, if they are conserved, to increase their production.

Prior to starting her graduate studies, Treanore worked with bumble bees and pollen during an internship in Germany. This experience, coupled with an innate passion for the nature made Treanore the perfect person for this research.

“I’ve always loved life sciences and food: pollination and bees are the perfect match” explains the Treanore.

Now Treanore is working with pumpkin farmers to ensure they have enough pollinators to support their crops. In 2014, U.S. farmers produced 1.3 bilion pounds of pumpkins (USDA), 17 % more than 2013. Bumble bees are one of the most important pollinators for this crop.

For her studies, Treanore planted four different flowering plant species in strips near the pumpkin fields. Last summer, she observing the preferences of bumble bees for these different species, and now she is evaluating how the different types of pollen affect their physiology.

Treanore hopes that her research will help both bumble bees and farmers, by providing higher quality food for bees and high pollination services and increased yield for farmers.