29 Jan 2018

Introduction to our newest PhD student, Abigail Lowe!

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

It’s a pleasure to be back working in the science department following my graduation from Southampton University with a degree in Biology. I started my KESS II PhD with Bangor University in December so I thought I would introduce my project and myself to those of you who don’t know me!

I began working with the Garden in 2011 by undertaking work experience in the summer whilst in sixth form. I had such a good time and gained such good experience that I decided to come back in summer 2013 at the end of my first year of university, and then undertook a role as a Placement Intern for 12 months between my second and third year of study. When the opportunity arose to continue my studies at the garden with a PhD, I jumped at the chance!

During my time as a placement student, I was part of the team that began investigating which flowers honey bees use for food by using DNA barcoding. The initial results of this project show that the honey bees in the Garden are only using 11% of the resources available to them during April and May. Studying the pollen they carry has shown that they rely on a small number of hedgerow species such as willow, hawthorn, oak and dandelion but they also supplement their diet with garden plants such as cotoneaster, hellebores and spring-flowering bulbs such as bluebells and tulips.  

My PhD project will use similar techniques in order to study wild pollinators such as solitary bees, hoverflies and bumble bees. Most of you will be familiar with honeybees and bumble bees but it may come as a surprise to many that they make up just 10% of bee species in the U.K. We have over 270 species of bee here but only one type of honey bee, the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) and 24 types of bumble bee (Bombus). The remainder are a little-known group called solitary bees which include leafcutter bees (Megachile), mining bees (Andrena), mason bees (Osmia) and many more. This group gets little attention, as most studies focus on honey bees and bumble bees. Another group of pollinators even less known are hoverflies, which can look very similar to bees or wasps, but are completely different.

You’ll be aware that pollinators are in trouble, with populations decreasing around the world due to a variety of factors such as climate change and habitat loss. They need our help! By understanding more about a wide range of pollinators, we can keep populations healthy, by planting the right plants for their survival.

If you would like to support this work and other projects looking at providing food for our pollinators: please visit our JustGiving, Help Save Our Pollinators!