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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I am an undergrad at the University of Wisconsin. One of the requirements for a Biology class I'm taking next semester is doing an Independant Project. I can spend some time this summer observing, testing, etc. in the field with honey bees, also I can spend some time in a lab conducting research on campus in the fall if needed. After I finish the project, I must present the results and give a presentation.

Luckily, I just started work in an USDA Entomology lab on campus. The lead researcher is Johanne Brunet and has agreed to take me on next semester in her lab. She has done a lot of research with Bumble bees and Hawk moths in the past few years - pollination and gene flow in different plant species. The following link is a study recently done by Johanne looking at the different success rates of bees pollinating alfalfa, if anyone is interested.

http://downloads.hindawi.com/journals/psyche/2010/201858.pdf

My bees are back home, on Washington Island in Lake Michigan. As of this writing there are only 4 other colonies on the Island other than mine. Currently, I have two yards - one in the middle of my grandma's 70 acre orgainc farm and the other is about 2 miles away on my dad's 40 that is mixed wetlands and organic fields. There is very little conventional farming and no commercial orchards. My family does organic cash crop farming - mostly wheat and flax. I manage to talk dad into planting a few acres of buckwheat for the bees every year. The biggest flow is wildflowers/clover with another golden rod flow later.

I should have 18 colonies that made it though the winter. I realize this isn't enough to make any concrete judgements, I can't afford to buy any more, but may be able to split if I can build some woodenware cheaply.

They are either russian/italian hybrids from Hardeman packages or splits made with NWC queens from Tim at honey run apiaries that I bought last spring, or queens from OWA in Washington that I started in Nucs at the end of August.

I have them in polystyrene hives and nucs, but have access to some wood equipment. I am thinking about comparing the success of making honey in two different hive materals (wood, polystyrene). I would make everything else equal, colony strength, SBB's, hive color, etc. Maybe have them in two different locations, each with all three different populations.

I don't treat them in any way, except a little spring feeding of sugar water and pollen substitute.
I'm still not sold on this idea, and I am looking for any other suggestions that aren't too complex and have something quantifyable.
If I use your idea - and you don't have honey coming out your ears - I'll send you a bottle in the fall.

Thanks for your time,

Jesse
 

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I would suggest that you propose equiping your hives with pollen traps.

Once that pollen is in hand, you can then do whatever assays/tests that your mentor's lab can manage.

It might be a good time to order a PCR setup.

Good luck.
 

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Jesse,

I would be careful with any research without first thinking through the possible outcomes and their significance. Any results from your hive equipment experiment would be difficult to interpret because it would apply to your conditions and not have any universal appeal (e.g.. how would I be able to extrapolate to Reno, NV during a wet year and seasonally high temperature conditions)? The suggestion of applying PCR to pollen sample would make a lot of sense especially if it already parallels the work done with bumble bees. You might want to use the same methods as used in the Bumble bee project to add an extra layer on interest to your project plus the raw materials might already exist in the lab. If PCR was used then the primers should already be characterized for some pollen sources. I did not read the paper so I am only guessing. My advice would be to take advantage of what this lab has done and the infrastructure used to support previous work and apply it to honey bees.
 

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http://www.entsoc.org/Pubs/Periodicals/EE/EETOCS/PDF/en069901172p.pdf

Although the above features an apparatus attached to a hive so that Honey bees could be used as vectors of Bt, it might be possible to use it as a way for bees to transport pollen from the hive to a target crop.

http://www.agron.missouri.edu/mnl/54/51walden.html

The nested sieve method described above might be an easy way to sort through pollen from different sources.

http://vwrlabshop.com/vwr-testing-sieves-8and#034;-brass-frame-stainless-steel-wire-cloth/p/0012572/

So you can get an idea of the cost of the sieves.
 

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If I read the paper correctly, your mentor is a field biologist.

So, although the PCR suggestion is cutting edge, it might not be appropriate for someone who is just entering a new lab. Besides, PCR setups cost a small fortune.

I think that the pollen suggestion is a good one for several reasons:

First of all, your bees are very good at collecting it, you already have hives, and you might just be able to make your own pollen traps (with the help of some experts found here).

Secondly, it fits in well with your mentor's field of research. If you can indeed demonstrate that your bees can not only collect pollen from different strains of a crop (transgenic and regular), but that you can also seperate the pollen from that crop based on size (iffy, but worth consideration), you might have yourself a nice project.

For instance, once you have your pollen samples in hand, then your mentor can make suggestions.

I don't know if there is a simple, low tech assay (like microscopy) that can allow you to distinguish between pollen from different strains of a crop, but it shouldn't be ruled out.

Finally, the price is right. A few hundred dollars worth of sieves isn't going to break any lab's budget. They might just get a good field biologist in return.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
That's a good idea HVH - maybe going off of some of her past research.

Thanks for all your input WLC - it's much appreciated, you've done more research than I have so far!

PCR is on the other end of the technology I was planning on using, I am just starting out when it comes to biological sciences. I took a break from school and got married, when I decided to go back (6 yrs later) I went from a senior double majoring in Business and Psych to majoring in Wildlife Ecology - as you would expect, not many credits transferred to this major - I have about 80 credits worth of electives at this point.

I honestly don't know what her equipment and experience is in this method, but I wouldn't doubt that she has access to it. UW is one of the better research universities in the country.

Part of my job in the research project she is working on is collecting anthers off of columbine flowers, which she analyzes somehow - maybe involves PCR.

Pollen could be the avenue I go down - I wouldn't mind getting some pollen traps bought for me ;)
One problem is there are really only wild plants on the Island that the bees get nectar/pollen from. Buckwheat is the only crop planted by us that the bees regularly go for. I'm pretty sure any crop that we grow is not transgenic.

I was thinking about something with behavior - but, not sure where to go with that either.

Keep the ideas flowing - It helps immensely
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I didn't think about it that way - I know that they love the smell of lemon grass oil. I suppose it would depend on what they equated with a certain scent. I do often wonder if some plants smell "better" if they have higher sugar concentrations.
 

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Well, you know if you could demonstrate that by adding an odorant such as an essential oil to a hive, that you also change a behavior like the type of pollen gathered, then you might have an interesting project to do.

Do you treat your hives with essential oils? If so, treat one group with one essential oil, and another group could simply be a control (no essential oil). Or, you could use a different essential oils with different groups. Then see if that affects the type of pollen gathered.

There's also some claims that if a hive is anesthetized w/ CO2, they will do more gathering (I can't remember if it was honey vs pollen) than housekeeping.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I occasionally add some essential oils to sugar water - spearmint and lemongrass mostly. It isn't a common practice for me. I'll think about it.
 
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