While Holly is researching the native bees for her Honours thesis, undergraduate students Lisl and Indigo have been participating in the research project as part of their Work Integrated Learning. Indigo is a Zoology and Ecology student, while Lisl majors in Earth and Data Science. Together they’ve been tackling the issue of understanding the harmful effects of insecticides and climate change on native bees.
Holly is investigating whether certain chemical structures in the insecticides can attract the bees to plants that have been sprayed. This would mean the bees take that nectar back to their hives where insecticides can have harmful sublethal effects even in very low concentrations.
The research has already seen some positive changes in the community so far. Lisl works at a farm on the Tablelands that uses pesticides on the different fruits they grow, and she has taken what she’s learned into her workplace.
“I wanted to see what effect the pesticides have on the bees, hoping to be able to speak to the manager and think about changing the types of pesticides that he’s using,” she says.
“We’ve already made plans to start a bee garden on the farm where we will plant certain native trees of different heights and install a water fountain. Hopefully it will bring more bees to the area.”
Holly is also hoping to build on the research of previous JCU students from past years. “I’m hoping to bring in a temperature element where I test to see whether there’s an effect of the different insecticides on the bees’ tolerance of different temperatures,” Holly says. “This is super important, especially facing climate change. Bees are so sensitive to even little changes in their climate and going into the future we really need to know how to better mitigate temperature fluctuations and help protect our bees.” A better understanding of these thermal stressors will provide answers to some of our most vital questions about native bees and add to the body of evidence to inform insecticide applications.
The research to understand the native bees requires patience and attention to detail. Lisl and Indigo have been working together to prepare containers for capturing the bees. “We’ve done a lot of pilots on container design trying to find the best one,” Holly says. “We tried placing the vials horizontally, facing out, or facing downwards, as well as trialling different types of sugar-soaked cotton wool for the bees to feed on. We think we’ve found what will be the most efficient design.” In the end, a container design that allows the team to plug in the test vials was the best option to minimise any extra stress caused by handling of the bees.
The process has been as beneficial for the bees as it has been for the research team.
“It’s been good to see how much you need to be able to adapt your experiment with the challenges. We’re able to work around problems and bounce back and just work really hard to make up that time. So it’s just been good to see that things can go wrong in the real world, but you just work through it.”
Indigo Spence, JCU Student
Thankfully the native bees that the team are working with are friendly and don’t sting! Holly recalls, “We started collecting the bees into separate containers and then transferring them into the experimental containers. We had a few escapees while I was transporting them in my car.”