Pollen ‘meta-barcoding’ to give bees a chance

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Pollen ‘meta-barcoding’ to give bees a chance

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Published on 13 July 2016

A University of the Sunshine Coast PhD student is using cutting-edge genetic analysis in research that could help safeguard native bee populations.

Rachele Wilson, 28, is investigating the foraging patterns of Australian native bees – both wild and managed – by using ‘meta-barcoding’ – an extension of a technique used to create unique DNA ‘barcodes’ for plants, which quickly identifies their source.

Ms Wilson, who is vice-president of student environmental organisation USC Eco, recently received a $4,000 Rotary Postgraduate Scholarship to assist her research.

She has just returned from a trip to the University of Würzburg in Germany, where she worked with colleagues there to develop the project’s meta-barcoding techniques.

The Maleny resident said she aimed to map the plant-pollinator networks of several bee species with their corresponding pollen sources.

“Previously, you would have to follow and observe direct interactions between bees and the plants they were visiting, or catch bees and take pollen from them for expert visual identification,” she said.

“With this new method of meta-barcoding, we can match entire seasons of pollen from hives and nests to databases of DNA barcodes of all the plants in the area, which is far more efficient.

“I’ll be testing a wide variety of native bee species from hives and wild populations located around South-East Queensland.”

With European honey bee populations in decline internationally, the research could suggest strategies to safeguard pollination in Australia.

“By improving our understanding of foraging requirements, we’ll have a better idea of what vegetation types we need to protect,” Ms Wilson said.

“Internationally there is emerging evidence of the need to retain both managed and wild bees to prevent a pollination crisis. It will be really helpful for land managers to know what vegetation to conserve or restore to support our native bees.”

Ms Wilson’s research is being supervised by Professor in Agricultural Ecology Professor Helen Wallace.

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