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Bee expert creates a buzz at Bucks

Photo+courtesy+Wikimedia+Commons
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Sunshine Karns

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Bucks students and faculty gathered in the science center atrium to get the buzz on honey bees from an expert in the field.

With sticky fingers, students at Bucks carefully passed around a real honey comb and small vials of nectar and pollen that were foraged by honey bees. These samples, which  were collected by Dr.  Douglas B. Sponslor of Penn State University and the Center for Pollinator Research, could be used to tell researchers where honeybees are foraging for resources.

“I timed myself to quantify my suffering,” joked Sponslor, who separates these miniscule parcels for DNA testing. “It takes about 6 hours to sort every ten grams of pollen, but it’s very beautiful.”

With a tie depicting an array of insects hanging down his chest, Sponslor explained that he and his team are able to pinpoint the location of the pollen and nectar foraged by the bees by using  a dance that the bees perform.

“According to my wife I can no longer demonstrate the dance for the audience,” Sponslor said humorously, “but this bee dance is called the waggle dance and it exploits the point of the resource.”

During a waggle dance, a worker bee will shimmy its body after finding a potential food source or nesting site. The hive mates of the worker bee can “read” the direction and length of each shimmy as the distance and direction of the resource, and know its precise location.

Sponslor and his team are collecting this data to find out how landscapes that are humanly dominated affect honey bees. Students were shocked to learn that honey bees seem to be thriving in urban settings more than that of a forest or suburban setting.

“The success of a honeybee depends not on floral diversity or a pristine ecosystem, but on available resources,” said Sponslor.

The honeybee has recently been making headlines due to its rapid decline. According to the American beekeeping federation,  one third of all the food Americans eat is directly or indirectly derived from honey bee pollination.

“We want to say things that are true,” said Sponslor to the crowd of fifty students and faculty. “Honey bees are thriving in highly disturbed ecosystems. Maybe they’re more like us than we thought.”

Sponslor is currently collaborating with the Philadelphia Bee Company, a company that provides locally produced bee products that are gathered and made within city limits. Together they are continuing to conduct research on honeybees in urban landscapes by placing colonies throughout the city and tracking their health.

According to the Foundation for the Preservation of Honeybees Inc., Sponslor wrote an essay called “Shedding light on the complex biology of honey bee pesticide exposure,” in which he states that for 3 years he and his team studied honeybees and pesticides.

A student in the audience questioned, “Will you look at pesticides in Philadelphia and how they affect the honeybees?”

Sponslor responded, “Wherever you look for pesticides you find them. Data can be so easily misinterpreted, so I don’t know.”

His work in Philadelphia is not finished, but the data he collected so far supports the honey bees’ ability to thrive in urban landscapes.

Sponslor grew up in Philadelphia but started his research in college in Ohio. He is happy to be home, researching what he loves.

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The student newspaper of Bucks County Community College
Bee expert creates a buzz at Bucks