Plant-Pollinator Networks: How Plant Traits Affect Disease Transmission in Osmia lignaria
Wild and managed bee species contribute to the country’s economy, agriculture, and biodiversity. Due to many factors including climate change, pesticide use, loss of habitat, and disease spread, bee populations are in decline. During this research, we evaluated how plant traits affect disease transmission in the wild bee Osmia lignaria, otherwise known as the Orchard Mason bee. One way in which diseases are thought to be transmitted at plant sites is through oral-fecal interactions among bees. During these interactions, an infected bee may defecate on a flower and another uninfected bee may acquire an infection by ingesting the pathogen. The parts of the flower where bees deposit become sites for other bees to acquire diseases. To replicate this scenario, we set up ten flight cages for each of the thirteen plant species used. In addition, five female bees and several inflorescences were introduced in each cage for 24 hours. Afterwards, the data showed the amount, size, and location in the flower where each fecal event was deposited. The plant traits considered for their effect on disease transmission were: inflorescence height (mm), inflorescence width (mm), reproductive structures per inflorescence (number), nectar production (volume per flower in ul), nectar accessibility, stamen location, number of stamen, flower morphology, color, corolla length (mm), corolla width (mm), corolla depth (mm), UV reflectance, and UV nectar guides. These plant traits may influence how bees interact with flowers and if it is a potential site for disease transmission. In the future, this data can be used for further research involving disease spread among other bee species and for the understanding of pollinator health overall.
This experience at the BTI-Cornell PGRP REU Program has been incredibly fulfilling and has helped me develop essential skills for field and laboratory research. I am so grateful that I became a part of this research team and that I helped move this exciting project along with the help of my mentor and principal investigator. Throughout this summer, I gained essential bioinformatics, research, communication, and lab skills that will help in my future career in science and research.