By: Haley Gamertsfelder And Meg Wickless
Combined, the two of us spent about 120 hours in the lab working on this project.
Our job was primarily to sort the pollen samples out by color. After weighing out 3 grams from the beekeeper’s sample, piles were made of every color we could identify. Each pile of different colors were weighed and, again, stored in small tubes. When we weighed and stored each color, we coded each color to its correct mass by an assigned number. We learned the hard way that this was not the most efficient course of action. When it was time to analyze the data, we had to dig through all our sorted samples (well over 100 little plastic baggies in one huge freezer drawer) and assign a color in place of the number to every tube in every sample. So, a note to future students working on the project: assign colors immediately! When data was analyzed, recorded, and put into pie-chart form, we were able to see the nutritional diversity of multiple colonies and how each colony’s diversity changed over time. Because the only data we were working with was pollen color and mass, we had to assume that a diversity of pollen colors was equal to a diversity in the bees’ diet and which/how many amino acids they were consuming. We felt that we could assume this because different species’ of plants vary greatly in terms of what’s in their pollen. Protein content alone can vary from 2.5% to 61% between different plant species, and on top of that, different species contain different amino acids.
Bees need a healthy amount of protein, and enough of all the amino acids they need to survive, which is exactly why the information we obtained could be useful. If bees aren’t getting everything they need, nutritionally, beekeepers often supplement their colonies. From what we’ve determined, we can tell with some degree of confidence whether or not a colony needs a supplement, but we can’t tell what a beekeeper should supplement with. In order to know that, we would need to trace each color of pollen back to a specific plant, so we could know how many of each amino acid a colony is getting. That is most likely the next step in this research - tracking down which pellet of pollen came from which species of plant.
In our end-of-semester wrap up, we chose to highlight 3 particular apiaries as a representation of our project in whole. The samples we were provided had a designation indicating the apiary or bee keeper they came from. The three whose results we are going to share were from SAAK in Allegany County Maryland, SAAJ in Blount County Alabama, and SAAF, in Montgomery County, Maryland. We chose these particular samples out of many others due to their abundance of samples.
While we were able to compile results to have a sneak peak into the foraging preferences of honey bees, more can be done. After we did our research we saved the sorted pollen in a freezer. Eventually this pollen can be viewed under microscope to determine exactly which species it came from. From this we can learn which amino acids or proteins are derived from the source, and what the bees are intaking.
Now that the semester is drawing to a close, we’d like to thank University of Maryland’s Bee Informed Partnership lab for giving us the opportunity to work on this exciting project!