The early bee: foraging strategies of bumblebees in dim light conditions in agricultural landscapes of South Devon

Institution: University of Exeter

Lead Supervisor: Dr Natalie Hempel de Ibarra

Project Description

We will scrutinise flight activity and foraging in bumblebees at individual and colony level in the early hours of the day to understand the ecological consequences imposed by sensory limits of bee vision under dim light. This becomes increasingly relevant under scenarios of light pollution (Davies, Bennie, Hempel de Ibarra, Gaston (2013) Global Change Biology) and climate change. This is a new project, which extends our previous work on bee vision in a new direction and benefits from our current field research and experience in RFID-tracking of bees.

The student will collect data at our field sites in the South-Devon AONB and access landscape data in the AONB headquarters. Pollen analysis and computational work will be conducted on Streatham campus, Exeter. In the field she/he will be supervised and trained by my 2nd-year PhD student R.Herascu working on bumblebee navigation (NERC-funded with CASE partner South-Devon AONB), in the lab by myself, supported by final-year PhD student T.Robert (Matlab, R) and postdoc K.Y.Chow (statistical analysis). Support with landscape data will be provided by collaborator R.English (landscape ecologist and head of the South Devon AONB management unit), support for modeling by NERC fellow A.Higginson (foraging theory expert) in our Centre.

Methods range from large data analysis and behavioural modeling to experimental pollination research (pollen analysis, RFID tracking, resource mapping, light intensity and temperature measurements, activity measurements). Transferrable skills will develop through interactions with landowners, public and AONB management unit. The student will be offered authorship on future publications and conference abstracts arising from their work.

We have all necessary lab spaces and equipment (RFID, phase-contrast LEICA microscope, software, laptops), a desk in the PGR students’ office and high-spec computer for the student. Additional demands will be covered from existing funding and consumables. Travel to/from field sites will be covered by team arrangements.

Indicative timescale for project (subject to change)

Week 1: Methods training
Week 2-3: 10-day field trip in South-Devon AONB
1. Data collection and analysis (on laptop); RFID, light, temperature and general activity measurements in early and midday hours in bumblebee colonies set up in field sites for another project
2. Mapping of mass-flowering plants and hedges using landscape and GIS data for specific field sites (with help from our partner South-Devon AONB)
3. Identification of main pollen types brought back by bees (colour ID scale (developed in our current work in South Devon)
Week 4-10: In the lab
4. Validation of pollen identity under the microscope, measure pollen sac weights (week 4)
5. Analysis to identify illumination-related determinants of behavioural activity and foraging success (week 4-7)
6. Model foraging efficiency at individual and colony level (week 8-10), e.g. pollen influx change with changing light conditions over the day and resource availability based on plant maps and data

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