Blog

Postdoc position: Developing risk assessment models for Bombus and multispecies risk assessment tools

We are seeking applicants for a post-doctoral research assistant (PDRA) position to develop an agent-based model for Bombus, to complement similar models for honey bees and solitary bees, contribute to integrative analysis of bee health and production of tools for risk assessment, and develop a multi-species Environmental Risk Assessment tool, as part of an EU Horizon 2020 research project. The successful applicant will be based in the research group of Professor Jane Stout in the School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, will work closely Professor Chris Topping and his team in the Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, and will join the dynamic and interdisciplinary PoshBee[1] team.

poshbee logo

The PDRA is required to: design (create a formal model), develop (implement the formal model), and test an agent-based model for Bombus within the ALMaSS framework, utilising landscape simulation models for a large part of the EU. The final model should integrate multiple stressors, including explicit incorporation of pesticide-related effects to predict impacts of changed agricultural management on bumblebees. The model is to be developed in cooperation with ALMaSS researchers associated with PoshBee and EcoStack H2020 projects, to create a simulation modelling system to inform risk assessment procedures for bees in agricultural systems.

Key skills

Essential:

  • Proven programming ability in an object-oriented language, ideally C++.
  • Experience in developing scientific programming and/or modelling projects.
  • Good communication abilities will be important to be able actively engage the geographically distributed team.
  • Structured approach to project planning and execution
  • Languages skills – must be fluent in English.

Desirable:

  • Ecological/behavioural knowledge of bees, particularly bumblebees.
  • Programming in Python, GIS skills, experience with R, and application of mathematical and statistical analysis will all be helpful skills to have.
  • Knowledge of pesticide environmental risk assessment, or toxicology.
  • Flexibility to be able spend periods in Denmark.

 Salary: This appointment will be made at point 1 of the PDRA scale from the Irish Universities Association Researcher Salary Scales i.e. €37,223 per annum (gross) for 18 months from 1st August 2019.

 To apply: please send letter of application, outlining suitability for the post, and a CV, to Prof. Stout stoutj@tcd.ie by 14th June 2019.

Project description

Pollinators face multiple threats including agrochemicals, pathogens, habitat loss and climate change. A major 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 contribute to a workpackage on systems and agent-based modelling approaches to assess the synergistic effects of multiple stressors on bee health.

 

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

Advertisements

Bees are in decline, but what can I do? The Dos and Don’ts of pollinator conservation

It seems as if everyone is concerned about bees. With 50% of our Irish bee species in decline and 30% threatened with extinction, we are right to be concerned. A recent survey found that >90%* of Irish citizens want to protect bees & benefits they provide. And the number of news stories over the past week alone (which happened to be Biodiversity Week, incorporating World Bee Day) is testament to the fact that people are interested in bees.

But one of the most common questions I get asked is “What can I do?”.

So, here are some links to practical things you can do to help bees and other pollinators (and a few things not to do):

1. Encourage bees and other pollinators at home, in your work place, local community or school by implementing the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan guidelines. These are tailored for specific audiences and provide information on providing food and homes for bees, with practical tips and advice, written by the experts, based on evidence. All the guidelines are free to download.

herb garden.png
Herb gardens can provide lots of resources for bees and other pollinators – especially if you let them run a bit wild (like mine…)

2. Contribute to creating the evidence base by becoming a citizen scientist – you can count bees, flowers or the bees visiting the flowers. Whether you have 15 minutes or much longer to invest, there is something you can do…

3. Stop using biocides in the garden at home – ditch the bug spray, ant bait, and weed killers and use non-chemical control methods. Most insecticides are not target-specific – meaning they kill beneficial insects as well as the pests. Some pesticides are also very persistent and contaminate soils and water courses for years to come, as well as getting into the nectar and pollen of plants. So if in doubt, don’t use them. View dandelions and clover as food for bees not weeds, view aphids as food for ladybirds and blue-tits, and distract colonies of ants away from your home (they are amazing creatures with incredible societies – see here for some suggestions to non-chemical control).

 

Don’t do these things…

1. Feed bees sugar water – a drop of sugar water to revive bees on a cool spring day is ok, but they shouldn’t feed on it for long and you shouldn’t put out containers of it during smmer. It doesn’t contain all the nutrients of nectar and is like junk-food for bees.

2. Start beekeeping to “save the bees” – honey bees are not in decline, need care and attention from trained beekeepers, and poorly managed hives can contribute to disease and depletion of resources for wild bees. By all means keep them if you want to make honey, take up a new hobby and are prepared to invest. Just don’t do it thinking you are helping to conserve bees.

3. Expect a full-house in a bee hotel – only 10/77 of our native solitary bees will nest in a garden nest box. Most of the other species nest in the ground – try leaving some bare earth banks, piles of grass clippings, undisturbed vegetation instead.

Pollinator Plan Infographics_Bee Hotels
From the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan www.pollinators.ie

4. Chuck “wildflower” seed bombs around – unless you know what the seeds they contain are, and where they are from, you could be doing more harm than good to the local plant population. Non-native plants can look unnatural along road-sides, not provide the right kind of resources for native insects, and outcompete or damage native plants. Your best bet is to stop cutting/mowing and leave the native plants to flourish.

 

For more information, see www.pollinators.ie

 

*data from Pollival project – to be published soon…

 

About the author: Prof Jane Stout leads the Plant-Animal Interactions Research Group in Botany, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin and is deputy chair of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.

World Bee Day 2019

Happy World Bee day!

As well as launching our lab theme song, this World Bee Day, I was privileged to meet the President, Michael D. Higgins, at Áras an Uachtaráin. Along with Una Fitzpatrick, the Chair of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan from the National Biodiversity Data Centre,  we visited the walled garden in the Áras and discussed bees, the importance of pollinators and the plight of biodiversity in general. The President is a staunch advocate for nature (see his impassioned speech from the National Biodiversity Conference here), as illustrated by his press release today…

Michael D 19.05.19
L-R: Jane Stout, Michael D. Higgins, Una Fitzpatrick, in the walled garden at Áras an Uachtaráin

Statement by President Michael D. Higgins marking World Bee Day 2019

 “On United Nations designated World Bee Day, we are reminded not only of the important part played in our inter-dependent world by bees and other pollinators and the need to promote sustainable farming practices and hedgerow management but also of how we can all help by sustaining and providing a suitable environment for our bees.

 Humanity depends on pollinators. They are vital to the global food chain. Yet, we must acknowledge that our actions – including farming practices, urbanisation, land management, environmental pollution and the climate crisis – have placed our insect world in acute danger.

 So today, let us use World Bee Day, and National Biodiversity Week, to increase and spread the knowledge and the awareness of the importance of the living world, and commit to specific action to ensure the survival of all of Ireland’s native bee and pollinator species.

 As President of Ireland, may I thank all those who are already taking action, and who continue to work to conserve our environment in all its vital diversity, and may I express the hope that World Bee Day and National Biodiversity Week will inspire countless others to join them and discover how they, too, can be part of the urgent change that we must achieve for our generation and generations to come.”

 

See also this Irish Times article to mark the occasion…

 

Professor Jane Stout leads the Plant-Animal Interactions Research Group at Trinity College Dublin, and is Deputy Chair of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan Steering Group.

 

Bee-Blur(b): a song for World Bee Day

Monday 20th May 2019 is World Bee Day, and to celebrate, the Plant-Animal Interactions Research Group are launching this tribute to bumblebees (and Blur), much loved by members of the group… Please sing along to the tune of Blur’s Country House (Note we added an extra verse)…

 

And so the the story bee-gins
Mouse hole dweller, a pheromone smeller
Thought to herself whoah I’ve got a lot of honey
Feeeeeding my colony, undergrouuuund

I’m an egg-laying queen but I’m bored of the scene
I’m living life like a reproductive machine
Waaaaaanna get out and – fly arouuuuuuuund
It’s more her thing, a life on the wing!

She lives in a hole, a very cramped hole in the soiiiil
Watching baby bumbles hatch and the food she can snatch in the soiiiil
She wants to go above ground, smell flowers, fly around, above the soiiil
She’s gotta escape, into the landscape, above the soiiil

She’s out in the sun, foraging, having fun

Everything going brilli-unt

In touch with her own sense of libertyyyy

She’s checking out whitethorn, bumbling round blackthorn
Can’t stop cause it makes her feel wonderfully buzzed
Oh it’s a queen bee’s remedy

But hang on guys…. there’s pesticiiiiiiiiides!

NO!!!

She’s back in the hole, a very cramped hole in the soiiil…
There’s poison in her chest so she needs a lot of rest, in the soiiiil
She can’t drink eat lay, she’s wasting away, under the soiiil
She’s come to some harm on that bloody farm, above the soiiil

She’s got disease, it’s gory, and life’s a different story
Everything’s going wrong in the colony
Touched by their own mortality

They’re eating pollen, knocking back nectar
It’s laced with pesticides and second’ry metabolites
Oh it’s a apical parody
For the little bee
A new larvae, in the colony…

She lives in a hole, a very cramped hole in the soiiil
Laying eggs all the time, trying to stay alive, in the soiiil
Fighting hunger and disease, poisoning – poor bees! – in the soil
Oh, it’s insect hellscape, in agricultural landscapes, in the soil

Under the soiiiil (do do doooo)
Under the soiiiiiiiil (do do doooo)
Under the soiiiiiiiiiiiillll (do do DOOOOOO do DOOOOOOOOOOO)

Buzz, oh buzz off I am so sad, I don’t know why
Buzz, oh buzz off I am so sad, I don’t know why

(REFRAIN) She lives in a hole, a very cramped hole in the soiiil
Laying eggs all the time, trying to stay alive, in the soiiil
Fighting hunger and disease, poisoning – poor bees! – in the soil
Oh, insects are banned on agricultural land, above the soil

Picture1

 

Words by Hannah Hamilton and (less so) Jane Stout.

 

Fieldwork fever…

There is a sickness that people can get, usually around the beginning of spring. They say it is common among researchers of natural sciences. The symptoms are more or less the following: Anxiety, Excitement, Impatience, Faster heartbeat, Disappointment, Productivity, Tiredness, Satisfaction… Depending on the agent that caused it, you might get all the above mentioned, or at least some of them, in various combinations.

I think I got it too. It started last week. The night before my 1st day on the field, I found it so hard to sleep. I kept on making all these scenarios in my mind about what could go wrong and how to be prepared. I kept thinking of all the equipment I had to take with me, and make sure I didn’t forget anything . You see, I had to travel some distance by car in order to get to my destination, and forgetting something would be a huge loss. It was obvious I was too anxious about it.

On the day, I woke up very early in the morning (not that I slept much). I wore my fieldwork clothes. I took my sandwiches and water. I loaded the van with all the necessary equipment for my sampling and I was good to go! I was so excited. Driving the van was a thrilling experience as well. Moreover, it helped me spot the oilseed rape fields more easily, since I got to be in a higher place than the rest of the cars and the view was amazing (Picture 1).

Elena 1.png

Picture 1. A typical Irish landscape

It was the first time I had driven to Wexford and I really enjoyed the ride. But, as it usually happens when you are driving to an unknown destination, I became impatient to reach my destination. I drove past endless green fields with cows, sheep, horses, shrub lands, and oilseed rape fields glittering under the sun within their bright yellow dress. Each time I saw one, I could feel my heart beating faster and I kept thinking: where is my field?

It seemed to me like I was driving for ages, when the voice of the GPS on my phone said “in 600 m, you have reached you final destination”. I looked on my right and there it was (Picture 2).

Elena 2.pngPicture 2. Golden beauty: A flowering plant of oilseed rape (Brassica napus)

A golden beauty. A million tiny yellow flower buds were waiting to be collected. I parked the van beside of the field, jumped out of the driver’s seat and ran towards the field to start my sampling. Little did I know…When I reached the crops, I realized that I couldn’t start sampling – the flower buds were completely covered with the early morning moisture, which made them inappropriate for sampling. I cannot describe to you my disappointment. All my planning, my waking up early, so as to reach my destination early and have as much time to collect as many flower buds as possible, has gone to waste… But, you know what they say: when human make plans, nature laughs out loud.

I couldn’t do nothing, but wait. Luckily, the sun was pretty strong  in the Irish sky that day, and the temperature, along with the soft spring breeze, worked as natural dryers and took the moisture away. After a while the flower buds were at the optimum condition for being collected. In the meantime, I had calculated the surface of my field and planned my collection design. I started pinching the buds by their stems, so as to preserve them as untouched as possible (Picture 3).

Elena 3Picture 3. Pinching he flower buds

According to the protocol, I had to collect approximately 1000 flower buds, in order to obtain the necessary amount of nectar and pollen for the chemical analyses. It felt so great being among all these nice smelling flowers that made me so motivated and productive (Picture 4).

Elena 4

Picture 4. A cuckoo bee (Elenious ziogaous), collecting flower buds in an oilseed rape field (altr. Elena Zioga collecting flower buds)

I couldn’t help but wondering though, how bees must feel. I was quite confused in terms of which flower bud to choose, but I am pretty sure they know better. What amazing creatures they are!

Collecting flowers and carefully choosing the ones that will contain pollen and nectar (haven’t been harvested by pollinators), can be a very tiring process. However, each time I was feeling a bit tired, I simply had to follow a cute buzz. I really enjoyed staring at a bumble bee or a honey bee squeezing their little faces inside the flowers in an effort to reach their food, ending up covered with yellow dust – pollen (Picture 5). That felt great and at the same time, it gave me so much strength to proceed with my sampling.

Picture 5. On the right, a female bumble bee (Bombus lapidarious) is drinking nectar, while on the left a honey bee (Apis mellifera) is taking advantage of both pollen and nectar of the oilseed rape flower

After seven hours of sampling, I was finally able to estimate that I had collected the amount of flower buds needed, and I was good to go. A sweet tiredness overcame me when the levels of adrenaline returned to normal. On my way back to Dublin, thinking about my day, I was feeling happy. Happy, and satisfied. Given all my symptoms, turns out, I suffer from fieldwork fever. The only disease I don’t want to recover from.

 

About the author:

Elena Zioga is a first year PhD student working on the PROTECTS project, under the supervision of Jane Stout at TCD and Blanaid White at DCU.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture 5. On the left, a female bumble bee (Bombus lapidarious) is drinking nectar, while on the right a honey bee (Apis mellifera) is taking advantage of both pollen and nectar of the oilseed rape flower

After seven hours of sampling, I was finally able to estimate that I had collected the amount of flower buds needed, and I was good to go. A sweet tiredness overcame me when the levels of adrenaline returned to normal. On my way back to Dublin, thinking about my day, I was feeling happy. Happy, and satisfied. Given all my symptoms, turns out, I suffer from fieldwork fever. The only disease I don’t want to recover from.