This is the third short news article written by students, during the professional development class of Spring 2023, about each other's research.

Student Research Spotlight - Ethan Dean
Written Bijay Subedi

Alarm bells ringing! It's time to take action and curb the harmful use of insecticides for a safer tomorrow. Bumble bees, with their fuzzy, round bodies and charming buzz, are more than just cute garden visitors - they play a critical role in our ecosystem and food system. In fact, without these buzzy little helpers, our favorite foods, like blueberries, strawberries, and tomatoes might disappear from our plates. There is concern that the widespread use of insecticides in agricultural fields has a negative impact on the winter survival of these bees. And if the bumble bees aren't buzzing around, neither will the crops they help pollinate.

Ethan Dean, a Ph.D. student in Dr. Etya Amsalem’s lab in the Department of Entomology at Penn State University, is investigating how insecticides can impact bumble bee’s winter survival, also called diapause, where the animal enters a long term sleep-like state. Diapause is when creatures like bumble bees hit the snooze button on their development until the environment gets a little cozier. This period is a critical time for bumble bees, as any stress experienced before or during winter slumber can have a major impact on their behavior, survival, and reproductive ability.

“Imagine wintertime is coming up and you have to prepare for several months of survival without food. Eating up everything that you can find, you might accidentally consume poisons, or insecticides”, says Ethan. Ethan is on a mission to figure out how those insecticides affect the bumble bees’ winter survival and ability to start colonies the following spring.

Ethan will use many different analyses to uncover the impact of insecticides on bumble bee health. He will feed them with different doses of insecticides and monitor their ability to consume food and then survive winter slumber. He will also monitor their ability to start a colony following the winter diapause. Some of these lower, sublethal doses might actually have a positive effect on survival, an outcome called hormesis. But these short-term benefits may cost more later in life. Looking into when and how these effects happen, Ethan can discover another layer to this complex system. With a range of factors to track, from bumble bee weight to macronutrient levels, Ethan will spare no detail in his mission to save them.

Ethan's passion for bumble bees is rooted in their importance as pollinators. He knows that these fuzzy creatures play a crucial role in not just food crops but also supporting the biodiversity of our ecosystem. Ethan says, 'Bumble bees are like guardians of ecosystem health and food security.' With this in mind, Ethan is driven to study and understand the impact of insecticides on bumble bees. And by understanding the impact of insecticides, we can work towards finding solutions to protect these important pollinators.

Ethan is advised in his research by Dr. Etya Amsalem, Associate Professor of Entomology at Penn State University. Ethan is supported by a Penn State University Graduate Fellowship Award.