Jacob Eddy and Brianne Du Clos: Bees and Barrens

Jacob EddyJacob Eddy of Thompson, Connecticut is a junior at the University of Maine. He will graduate in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in wildlife ecology, and a concentration in wildlife science and management. This past summer, Eddy worked with UMaine graduate student Brianne Du Clos, who collaborates with faculty researchers Cynthia Loftin and Frank Drummond. Eddy and Du Clos captured and identified bees in Maine to assess their habitat in power lines, and the impact that blueberry fields have on the diversity and abundance of the insects in the lines.

How do you describe your research?

Brianne: We are comparing bee populations in power lines adjacent to and away from blueberry fields to figure out which species of bees are living in there and their numbers.

Blueberry fields are usually surrounded by wooded areas, which do not make good bee habitat because they are dark and have fewer flowers. We are learning that power lines make a great habitat for bees because they are open to lots of light and wildflowers. Unfortunately, we also are finding that there aren’t too many power lines around blueberry fields. However, there are plenty of nearby roads, which can serve the same purpose as the power lines in terms of bee forage and habitat. This research will determine if power lines are actually beneficial to bees and if those near blueberry fields enhance the native bee diversity and abundance, which will only benefit the blueberry growers.

What is it about the power line habitat that you’re questioning or concerned about?

Brianne: At the most basic level, we want to know if power lines can serve as bee habitat. This question is answered just by simply catching bees in those areas. At a deeper level, we are assessing what kinds of forage (wildflowers and flowering shrubs) are found in the power lines throughout the growing season to determine if the power lines can provide a consistent source of forage for bees. Bees need pollen and nectar after the blueberries bloom, which happens in late May and early June.

We are also assessing the effects on different landscapes when bees use nearby power line habitats. The blueberry fields of Down East Maine lie in a simpler landscape of mainly forests, but not much of any other agricultural use or urban development. In contrast, the blueberry fields of midcoast Maine lie in a more complex landscape of forests, more agricultural land and more development. Landscape complexity is generally beneficial to bees because of the varying degrees of openness, flower variety and light intensity, so we expect to find more bees and bee species in midcoast Maine.

When you determine which species are there and in what numbers, what will that tell you?

Brianne: It’s really interesting to think of something like power lines as providing bee habitat. Demonstrating that bees are using power lines as habitat may provide conservation opportunities for native pollinator habitat, like planting more wildflowers or providing bee nesting boxes to enhance existing habitat. Knowing that bees are living and foraging in managed landscapes, such as power lines, is exciting news to tell everyone.

Where did you do your fieldwork?

Jacob: There were two main ranges, midcoast and Down East Maine. Each range had six sites, three that were adjacent to blueberry fields (at least 100 feet away) and three that were at least 2 kilometers away from the fields.

How did you contribute to the research project?

Jacob: In the field, we set up bowl traps and did netting. In the lab, I pin the bees and put them into a box with others collected that same month. We can only identify a bee down to its genus, so we send the boxes to an expert to identify the species.

What are some cool facts you learned about bees while doing the research?

Jacob: First, people think that you can’t get stung by bumblebees. That’s false: The only time I got stung during this project was by a bumblebee. They’re just really cool, they can be shiny and fluorescent. There are just so many types of bees that we don’t usually see or think of as bees. What’s also interesting is that huge portions of our food rely on bees to pollinate them. If we lose large numbers of bees, we could lose a large portion of our food supply.

How does doing undergrad research add to your academics at UMaine?

Jacob: The Wildlife, Fisheries and Conservation Biology Department does a good job giving you experience in the labs, but doing actual research gives me more of an insight into what I would actually be doing with my degree. I pick up tidbits on how other people conduct their studies and if I were to do a study, I would know how to design it and what I would need to do. I get to see how much work really goes into research studies and sometimes I even get to have some input. The graduate students provide us with insights and tips and interactions that we would never get in a lab. Basically, I get an understanding if I’m in the right field of study. Plus, Brianne is awesome.

Have you done any other research studies or was this your first one?

Jacob: Last year, I worked on a Canada lynx food habitat study. I processed the field samples and identified medullary configurations within scat samples to understand what the animals ate.

Why did you decide to major in wildlife ecology?

Jacob: It was always a career option in the back of my mind. I liked animals a lot and I loved to watch animal documentaries when I was younger. I’m an avid outdoorsman and I didn’t want to be stuck in an office all day, so when it came time to choose what I had to do in life I chose wildlife ecology. I feel that in the future with this degree, I’ll be able to make decisions to make things better.

So, why UMaine?

Jacob: When doing research on what schools to go to, I only applied to three, one of which happened to be UMaine. I picked UMaine out of the three because the wildlife program seemed the best and the faculty seemed really cool. I also think that Maine as a state is one of the best for ecology and wildlife, and Acadia and Baxter State Park are two great places to go just for those reasons.

After you graduate, what do you hope to be doing?

Jacob: I would love to work with large mammals in Africa or stay in North America and work with grizzlies. I think I want to manage them, but I’m considering grad school so that I can do research with them too. Because of the bee research, I want to get into beekeeping as well.