Blog

The Flight of the Undergraduate – From Genetics to Bumblebees

My name is Maeve McCann and I’m a Genetics student at TCD. This summer I am working on a research project with Jane Stout (Botany, TCD) and Jim Carolan (Biology, Maynooth University). Last May (2017), I sent Jane an email asking if there was any chance I could get involved with the work she was doing with bumblebees, not even sure if as a 2nd year I would get a reply. However, to my delight Jane replied and here I am doing a research project and loving it!

In a meadow near Monawilkin Lake, Derrygonnelly, Co. Fermanagh
In a meadow near Monawilkin Lake, Derrygonnelly, Co. Fermanagh

The project Jane and I put together aims to further research already carried out on a group of bumblebees known as B. lucorum agg. They are a cryptic complex meaning that the worker bees of four different species are indistinguishable by appearance. They are all white tailed with two yellow bands, one on the thorax and one on the abdomen. The four species are Bombus terrestris, Bombus lucorum, Bombus magnus and Bombus cryptarum (B. terrestris queens are distinguished from the other queens by their buff tail, however the workers are generally not distinguishable). Due to their cryptic appearance the only way to exactly determine the species is to do a genetic fingerprint test from a sample of their DNA. This is a robust method for species determination and, provided I get the hang of the lab techniques, I should be able to figure out which of the four species are living in which habitats across our chosen locations of County Fermanagh and Dublin city (cross-border bees!).

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Two yellow stripes and a white tail, but which species?

To get the DNA samples I was out “in the field” for a few weeks in Dublin and Fermanagh catching Bombus lucorum agg bees. I only need a single tarsal (foot) sample from each bee as this gives sufficient DNA to run the fingerprint test. I have had a fantastic time out and about catching bees to get the tarsal samples. I have learned so much about bumblebees, been to beautiful places and had great conversations with people enthusiastic about bees. I also managed to drag a few friends and family along with me. I took a few friends to the flower beds in Phoenix park, went with a group learning about Bumblebees with Bí Urban around Stoneybatter, went cycling between meadows in west Fermanagh with my Mum and canoeing to islands in Lower Lough Erne with my Dad. I’ve also been working on my farmers tan having been out and about during the recent hot weather!

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On the way to Inis Davar, Lower Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh.

Having completed my fieldwork I feel enriched with the new knowledge which it has brought. I’ve seen brand new things, learned a lot about bumblebees and gained a whole new appreciation for the insect world, but I have also come to realise that bumblebees along with many other insect species are under major threat from human activity. With projects like the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan in full swing I have great hope that we can turn the tide of habitat loss and insect decline.

As for me – It’s now time for me to take all my samples to Jim Carolan’s lab in Maynooth and discover what I have caught. So I’m switching my net for a pipette.

 

Maeve McCann is an undergraduate Science student at Trinity College Dublin, and her project is supported by the C.B. Dennis British Beekeepers’ Research Trust.

PROTECTS (Protecting Terrestrial Ecosystems Through Sustainable Pesticide Use)

We have received funding from the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) under their Research Funding programme for a new project called PROTECTS. We will provide baseline information in an Irish context to build towards mitigating the effects of pesticide use on terrestrial ecosystem services, focussing on pollinators and soils.

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This project brings together several of the members of the Irish Pollinator Research Network (IPRN) and is an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional 4-year project, starting 1st July 2018.

Dara Stanley (UCD) will lead the project, which involves researchers from Trinity College Dublin (Jane Stout), Maynooth University (Jim Carolan), Dublin City University (Blanaid White), and Teagasc (Karl Richards). Our findings will help to ensure that pesticides can be used safely while protecting wildlife, health and the environment, both in Ireland and internationally.

There are two PhD studentships currently available at TCD and DCU (details below). Successful candidates will join two other PhD students on the project team.

TCD studentship: Characterising pesticide residues in floral resources for bees

In this PhD project, the potential for pesticide contamination of floral resources as a result of translocation from soil will be evaluated. This translocation to floral products poses a major route of exposure of pollinators to pesticides. Working with other members of the PROTECTS team, we will identify four systemic pesticides which are a) extensively in Irish agricultural systems and b) potentially have negative impacts on pollinating insects. We will develop and validate extraction protocols for these pesticides from the floral resource matrices of nectar and pollen, collect samples from model species from field sites, complete laboratory-based chemical analyses and determine residue presence/concentrations in nectar and pollen to compare with soil-level contamination. In addition, methods for screening residues from nectar and pollen samples for rapid assessment of toxicity of floral rewards will be developed, and nectar extracts will be utilised directly in bee exposure experiments.

DCU studentship: Developing tools for pesticide detection and toxicity testing in soils and floral resources for bees

In this PhD project, we will collect soil samples from sites across Ireland and characterise these soils in terms of their physical and chemical properties, and their microbial communities. We will develop methods to extract pesticide residues from these soils, and analyse these extracts using GC-MS and HPLC-MS methodologies to determine which pesticide residues are present, and at what concentration. The extracted pesticide residues will also be used to determine their impact on pollinator species. We will also use the developed analytical tools to determine what pesticide residues are present in associated floral resource matrices for bees, in particular nectar and pollen. Finally, we will also develop a soil toxicity biosensor and apply this to screen the soil extracts.

PhD studentship available

PhD studentship: Integrating natural capital into Bioeconomic industrial applications (pdf)

We are seeking applicants with Bachelors/Masters degree (2.1 or higher) in natural/environmental science, natural resource management, or similar, preferably with knowledge and experience in natural capital, bioeconomy, and/or life cycle analysis.

A studentship, which includes a €18,000 stipend, plus €5,500 contribution to fees per annum, is available for 4 years from 1st September 2018.

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The PhD student will be registered in Trinity College Dublin, supervised by Prof Jane Stout (TCD) and Prof Cathal O’Donoghue (NUIG), and work as part of the SFI-funded BEACON-Bioeconomy research centre.

To apply: please send letter of application, outlining suitability for the post, and a CV with the names & email addresses of 2 referees, to Jane Stout stoutj@tcd.ie before 31st August 2018.

Project description: “Natural capital” comprises the world’s stock of natural resources, including all living and non-living components and associated bio-physio-chemical processes, from which flow goods and services which have benefits and value to human society. Natural capital is essential for a sustainable bioeconomy – it can be distinguished from physical capital (e.g. the factory that processes raw materials), social capital (e.g. employees harvesting and processing materials), and financial capital (e.g. the repayments on the operational costs). All types of capital are needed and an imbalance will reduce the capacity of the bioeconomy to function and threaten its long-term sustainability.

Natural capital stocks have been depleted globally, and although it is not about protecting the environment, the bioeconomy strategy could represent an opportunity to stop the loss of natural capital and the services that flow from it. However, integrating the natural capital approach into biobased industrial applications is challenging. One problem is in specifying and assigning “value” to natural capital in order to incorporate goods and services from nature into economic business models; another is making knowledge, tools and approaches accessible; and a third is reforming practices to align short-term private objectives with long-term public/societal ones.

This project will deliver a generic natural capital approach to developing bioeconomic activities in Ireland. This will involve determining impacts and dependencies (reliance on and outputs to) on natural capital across spatio-temporal scales (from local, regional, national to global; from cradle to cradle) for case-study applications, and developing general product rules.

Objective: Deliver generic and specific frameworks for integrating natural capital, tested on Technical Projects, applicable across industries

Methodological approach: Using an LCA approach and incorporating economic valuations, costs and benefits of alternative pathways can be determined. The project will further identify pressure points at which intervention could minimise potentially adverse impacts on natural capital.

Postdoc position available

We are seeking applicants for a post-doctoral research assistant (PDRA) position to co-ordinate and manage a multi-partner site network as part of an EU Horizon 2020 research project. The successful applicant will be based in the research group of Jane Stout in the School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin and will join the dynamic and interdisciplinary PoshBee[1] team.

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The PDRA is required to:

  • Liaise with site network managers to organise site location, bee deployment and sampling protocols
  • Collate and distribute methods for data collection and sample preparation; organise and facilitate a multi-partner methods workshop
  • Locate and manage the Irish sites, working with Irish partners, Teagasc and the Federation of Irish Beekeepers; collect and collate Irish samples
  • Mentor a PhD student
  • Participate in project meetings, assist with report-writing

 

Key skills

Essential:

  • Excellent organisation and time-management skills
  • Excellent face to face communication skills – with project participants, farmers, scientists etc.
  • Excellent written communication skills to prepare clear and precise documents and reports
  • Excellent data handling skills to collate and manage data sets
  • PhD in agroecology or similar
  • Analytical skills including quantitative GIS/landscape ecology
  • Full clean driving licence (valid in the Republic of Ireland)
  • Willingness to travel both within Ireland and overseas

Desirable:

  • Knowledge and interest in bee health science
  • Experience in conducting fieldwork in Ireland
  • Languages skills – must be fluent in English, other languages beneficial

 

Salary: This appointment will be made at point 1 of the PDRA scale from the Irish Universities Association Researcher Salary Scales i.e. €36,854 per annum (gross) for 18 months from 1st July 2018.

 

To apply: please send letter of application, outlining suitability for the post, and a CV, to Jane Stout stoutj@tcd.ie before 13th June 2018. Interviews will be conducted Monday 18th June (in person or via Skype).

 

Project description

Pollinators face multiple threats including agrochemicals, pathogens, habitat loss and climate change (Potts et al. 2016). A major new project PoshBee (Pan-European Assessment, Monitoring and Mitigation of Stressors on the Health of Bees) aims to understand the impacts of these multiple pressures on a range of bee species and develop novel tools to help reduce risks and negative impacts. Our findings will help to ensure that pesticides can be used safely while protecting wildlife, health and the environment, both in Ireland and internationally.

The PDRA will co-ordinate and facilitate replicated experiments over eight partner sites, including Ireland. At each site, the same experiments will be implemented and samples will be dispersed to other partners for analysis.

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[1] This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 773921

 

PhD studentships available

Come and join our team!! Two PhD studentships are available…

1. PhD studentship: Bee health – integrating field data into landscape-level risk assessment model (bee health)

We are seeking applicants with Bachelors/Masters degree (2.1 or higher) in biology, ecology, environmental sciences, or similar. Applicants must have excellent data collection and data handling skills; be proficient communicators and able to work in a team; be prepared to travel and spend long periods in the field in Ireland, and in Italy; have a full clean drivers licence (valid in Republic of Ireland); and preferably have field experience and proficiency in using GIS. Italian language skills may also be useful.

A studentship of €24,000 per annum will be available, which includes a student stipend of €18,000 plus €6,000 towards the annual cost of postgraduate fees, for 4 years from 1st September 2018.

To apply: please send letter of application, outlining suitability for the post, and a CV, to Jane Stout stoutj@tcd.ie before 13th June 2018.

Project description:

Pollinators face multiple threats including agrochemicals, pathogens, habitat loss and climate change (Potts et al. 2016). A major new project PoshBee (Pan-European Assessment, Monitoring and Mitigation of Stressors on the Health of Bees) aims to understand the impacts of these multiple pressures on a range of bee species and develop novel tools to help reduce risks and negative impacts. Our findings will help to ensure that pesticides can be used safely while protecting wildlife, health and the environment, both in Ireland and internationally.

poshbee logo

This project will collect field data on bee health in Ireland, and collate landscape data from both Ireland and Italy to feed into models for risk assessment of bee health. The successful candidate will join the dynamic and interdisciplinary PoshBee team. He/She will be primarily supervised by Prof Jane Stout at Trinity College Dublin, and co-supervised by Chris Topping (Aarhus University, Denmark) and Cecilia Costa (Council for Agricultural Research and Agricultural Economy Analysis, CREA, Italy).

 

2. PhD studentship: Characterising pesticide residues in nectar and pollen (pesticide residues.pdf)

We are seeking applicants with Bachelors/Masters degree (2.1 or higher) in botany, environmental sciences, environmental chemistry, agricultural science, or similar, preferably with field and laboratory experience (e.g. in nectar/pollen sampling, chemical analysis via GC-MS or HPLC-MS, etc.). The successful candidate will have excellent team-working, communication and analytical skills, and a full clean driving licence, valid for the Republic of Ireland.

The PhD student will be registered in Trinity College Dublin, supervised by Jane Stout (TCD) and Blanaid White (DCU), and work as part of a collaborative team within the Irish Pollinator Research Network.

A studentship of €24,000 per annum will be available (subject to confirmation of funding), which includes a student stipend of €18,000 plus €6,000 towards the annual cost of postgraduate fees, for 4 years from 1st September 2018.

To apply: please send letter of application, outlining suitability for the post, and a CV, to Jane Stout stoutj@tcd.ie before 13th June 2018.

Project description:

This position will form part of the PROTECTS (Protecting Terrestrial Ecosystems Through Sustainable Pesticide Use) project, funded by the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine under their Research Funding programme (subject to confirmation of funding). The successful candidate will join the dynamic and interdisciplinary PROTECTS team consisting of researchers from Trinity College Dublin, UCD, Maynooth University, Dublin City University, and Teagasc. PROTECTS will provide baseline information in an Irish context to build towards mitigating the effects of pesticide use on terrestrial ecosystem services, focussing on pollinators and soils. Our findings will help to ensure that pesticides can be used safely while protecting wildlife, health and the environment, both in Ireland and internationally.

In this PhD project, the potential for pesticide contamination of floral resources as a result of translocation from soil will be evaluated. This translocation to floral products poses a major route of exposure of pollinators to pesticides. Working with other members of the PROTECTS team, we will identify four systemic pesticides which are a) extensively in Irish agricultural systems and b) potentially have negative impacts on pollinating insects. We will develop and validate extraction protocols for these pesticides from the floral resource matrices of nectar and pollen, collect samples from model species from field sites, complete laboratory-based chemical analyses and determine residue presence/concentrations in nectar and pollen to compare with soil-level contamination. In addition, methods for screening residues from nectar and pollen samples for rapid assessment of toxicity of floral rewards will be developed, and nectar extracts will be utilised directly in bee exposure experiments.

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