Pollinator Experts at UW

February 19, 2018


Allen Centennial Garden isn’t the only place on campus that works with bees. The Garden sat down with three graduate students and scientists from the Gratton Lab at UW who specialize in research surrounding bees.

Bee Hive

Meet Hannah Gaines-Day, Jeremey Hemberger and Erin Lowe:

Hannah is an Assistant Scientist in Entomology at UW. Her most recent research project dealt with pollinators (bees) in apple orchards. She worked with local apple growers and looked at the influence of flower availability on bee behavior and how it changes apple yield.

Jeremy is a fifth-year graduate student and PhD Candidate in the Entomology Department. He studies bumble bees and how they contribute to cranberry pollination. Jeremy helped install the original beehives and colonies at Allen Centennial Garden. Because bumble bees feed exclusively on pollen and nectar provided by flowers, knowing where and when flowers are available is crucial to conserving bumble bees. Jeremy is working on building tools that predict where and when flowers are available in agricultural landscapes, and then using that to determine how many wild bumble bees are around and available to pollinate crops.

Erin is a first-year graduate student in the Entomology Department as well. Her research project deals with on-farm conservation of wild bees. She is considering questions related to pollinator habitats and where they should be located along a farmer’s farm so crops flourish.

At the Garden we have hives of Italian Honeybees. As it turns out, honey bees are not the only type of bees that contribute to pollination. Wild bees are also very important in the pollinating process. Unlike honey bees, wild bees are not domesticated. Domesticated bees live in hives and are maintained by beekeepers. In other words, researches are breeding honeybees so we can control their diseases, making them more resistant to becoming extinct.

Wild bees on the other hand are the bees that researchers know less about and haven’t domesticated. About 70% of wild bees live in the ground and do not belong to a hive. Honey bees tend to be more aggressive than wild bees because honey bees have a colony and hive to protect, while wild bees do not belong to a colony. Contrary to popular belief, not all bees are active during the same season. This means that not all bees can survive in the same landscapes because flowering plants may not be readily available during a particular bee’s active pollinating season. However, despite their differences, wild bees and honey bees are affected by similar factors in our ecosystem.

Unlike honeybees, we haven’t studied wild bees very much, and because of that, we don’t know exactly how we can best help them survive. That’s part of why we’re all interested in studying wild bees and it’s what a lot of our research question focus on.  Research at UW is continuously testing different factors hoping to make bee numbers increase and improve our agricultural world and food systems.