Master of Science, Zoology, student Connal McLean with a diverse range of flowers that bees will thrive alongside of.
September may be Bee Awareness Month, but bees matter all year round to Connal McLean.
“Bees are at-risk and are critically important pollinators, so their conservation is of the utmost importance,” the University of Otago Master of Science, Zoology, student says.
His research focuses primarily on bumble bee behaviour and genetic avenues for analysing that behaviour, he is also “devoted” to preserving all pollinator species, which are critically important and have conservation status.
He first got involved in researching bees during a project he ran during summer 2021 which saw him raising eight bumble bee colonies in free-flying enclosures.
The bees had access to either florally biodiverse environments or ones limited in floral species diversity.
Some setups mimicked naturally existing environments bees live in, such as a botanic garden or a thriving backyard, and other environments that predominantly have one or two crop species, such as food-producing farms, he says.
He found bees that had access to rich and biodiverse floral landscapes formed olfactory learning associations faster and better than those in resource-limited environments, and that bees in complex environments were overall healthier and more productive.
A number of educational activities promoting bee-friendly practices are scheduled to take place in September.
He will be extending the research over summer to look at pollen collection and foraging behaviour in a similar glasshouse setup and run some genomic sequencing to look at differential brain gene expression between individuals from different environments.
The University's one-of-a-kind glasshouse setup gives the bees access to rich floral environments they can live in for the duration of their colony cycle, and the free-moving learning assay McLean administers is non-invasive, which complies with all international ethics guidelines.
Making sure the environments he is putting the bees into replicates the kind of environments they would usually thrive in, and employing a nonharmful, relatively short test procedure which is common among animal research, is important to him.
“The welfare of my 'test subjects' was a big concern for me in designing the study.”
McLean was born in Tāmaki Makaurau, and moved around with his family between Aotearoa, the United Kingdom and the United States.
He completed a degree in Psychology at the University of California, Davis, with a minor in Medical Entomology, graduating and returning to Aotearoa just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
September 2022 is Bee Awareness Month, which aims to promote easy bee-friendly practices and inform people about our fuzzy, flying friends.
The University of Otago Departments of Zoology, Botany, and Ecology will host events throughout the month to promote education on pollinators.
The first events are two planting events which will be held in conjunction with the Otago Entomological Society and OUSA at the Kia Ora Peace on Albany St to support insect biodiversity. They will run on Tuesday, 13 September 12pm-1pm and Thursday, 15 September 1pm-2pm.
The next event is a Pollinator Workshop on Saturday, 17 September at 10am-12pm at Te Oraka, 96 Anzac Avenue (the former Unipol Gym building). This event is open to the public and will feature lots of activities to educate about pollination in general, what folks can do on a local or even backyard scale to help bees and other insects, and the importance of native floral and pollinator species biodiversity.
Kōrero by Koren Allpress, Internal Communications Adviser