Ryan Wallace is an undergraduate working on a project in our lab. I would like to share his thoughts…
Prior to working with the vanEngelsdorp lab, I had two years of research experience working with the Raupp lab and Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs. However, I quickly learned that my research experience with the vanEngelsdorp lab would be much different from my prior experiences.
First, the subject I was working with was new to me. I did not know that much about bees, except that they make honey and they are extremely important pollinators. I quickly started to learn more and more about bees every time I came into lab. For example, I never knew that the honey bees we were studying are not native to the US. I also learned a lot about Nosema spores and their effects on bees. I learned that Nosema is a huge concern due to their effects on honey production and colony population size.
This information gave me a better understanding of the motivation behind the research project I worked on. We were interested in seeing which predictor could be used to forecast whether a colony survives or dies. The predictors we evaluated included; average spore count, prevalence, intensity, as well as if bees were in a diverse environment and if they were fed protein supplements or not. We were mainly concerned in processing samples that would give us data for the first three predictors mentioned. To do this, Chris and Julius, who were the other undergraduates working on the project, and I crushed up bees and counted how many spores we saw under the microscope. Counting spores was extremely difficult at first, especially since I had not used a microscope in a while. However, after you get a good idea of what exactly a spore looks like, the process becomes much easier and quicker.
After obtaining our data, Nathalie, the PhD student working in the lab, helped us statistically analyze what the numbers actually meant. In a quick summary, we found that prevalence, which is how many bees out of ten are infected, seemed to be the most accurate of the first three predictors in determining whether a hive will die. This finding was very interesting to the researchers who we presented our project to. They were interested because prevalence could save huge amounts of time. Instead of counting the number of spores, prevalence would just allow us to simply say yes or no to the presence of spores. This was one of the most rewarding parts of working in the lab because our hard work over the semester had some significance in the bigger picture of Bee research.
Working at the vanEngelsdorp lab has helped me gain and refine practical skills that will be extremely useful as I continue my academic career. In addition, I had a great time getting to know everyone in the lab and am definitely grateful for such a great experience.