Student’s Research to Help Growers Identify Native Pollinators

BeecloseWhen most of us think of bees, we think of a buzzing hive of yellow-back striped bodies. We think of the big, winged queen pumping out eggs in the heart of the action. But while honeybees may live this way, most of Maine’s native bees do not.

In fact, their lifestyles are a mystery to most of us, including many blueberry growers who depend on bee pollinators to fertilize their crops. Sweat bees, for instance, burrow into soil and rotted wood, often living solitary lives. Leafcutter bees live in small groups and construct nests from leaves, pebbles and mud.

Brianne Du Clos, a PhD student in Ecology & Environmental Sciences, is developing a high tech tool that will tell blueberry growers what kind of native bee habitat they have around their fields and what species it attracts. It’s part of a project being funded by the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions.

The handheld, computerized tools are part of a geographical information system (GIS) platform that uses meticulous research data and satellite information.

“My role is to unite this expertise into a tool that will be useful to wild blueberry growers. Most importantly, I am working with wild blueberry growers throughout the development process to get their input, which is crucial to the creation of the tool,” Du Clos said.

The tool is of special importance these days as honeybees, the imported pollinator workhorse, are in a population decline. Du Clos’s tool is poised to help growers learn how to maximize the pollinating heft of Maine’s own bees.

Du Clos is working closely with Sam Hanes, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology and web designers at the Faculty Development Center to finish the project.

She said she’s learned much from working with a team of varied academic backgrounds and expertise: “I have enjoyed working collaboratively with an interdisciplinary team to get this tool off the ground. I am excited to see where we will be able to take the tool in the near future,” Du Clos said.

Du Clos’s advisors are Cynthia Loftin, Associate Professor, Department of Wildlife Ecology, and Frank Drummond, Professor, School of Biology and Ecology (SBE).