September 17, 2018

A Summer Scholar at the Apiary

UMass Amherst student looks for ways to improve the health of honeybees

If you are fond of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, you will appreciate the research Bryanna Joyce ’20 conducted with honeybees as a summer scholar at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Joyce, a plant and soil sciences major, spent five weeks feeding bees in 55 different hives at a commercial apiary in Barre, Massachusetts, in an experiment to learn if natural pollens can improve the health of honeybees. Each week she hand made dozens of pollen patties—out of sunflower pollen, wildflower pollen, a mixture of both, or a pollen substitute beekeepers often employ. She then measured the prevalence of several parasites and diseases harmful to the bees.

One of 39 scholars in the Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment’s summer program, Joyce conducted her experiment in the field and lab of biology professor Lynn Adler, a widely recognized bee expert who supervised the project. Adler’s research has already shown that sunflower pollen can reduce a common disease in bumblebees, close relatives to honeybees.

Honeybees are critical to pollinating fruits, vegetables, nuts, and flowers and contribute to the state’s economy. They have become a revenue source for the hundreds of Massachusetts farmers who operate apiaries to diversify their agricultural income.

Bryanna Joyce ’20 and Hannah Whitehead, honeybee extension educator, inspect bees to learn which pollens best protect them from disease.

Joyce seized the opportunity to be part of the Adler team as a first-year student after she attended a seminar on internships and heard a pitch from a graduate student in the lab.

“When I joined this lab, I realized I liked science a lot more than I thought I did. The insects are what got me. I liked working with plants because I like insects,” she explains.

As a summer scholar, Joyce, the first in her family to attend college, experienced many aspects of scientific research, including assisting with setting up the experiment, data entry, and analysis. She is awaiting lab results from the data she collected this summer and she and Adler will co-write a paper that will be published in a scientific journal.

The summer scholar program benefits both faculty member and student. “This is an opportunity for me to be able to fund a promising student to pursue independent research that is aligned with my interest,” says Adler.

Joyce received a $5,000 stipend for her work in the program, which also included a field trip to a dairy farm, professional development such as résumé writing and participating in a poster session, and learning about other summer scholar projects at luncheons. “It was way more fun than I thought it would be,” says Joyce.