Pollenize case study

Company background

Pollenize is a pollinator conservation project utilising the power of community beekeeping, product design, citizen science, IoT sensors, big data and environmental DNA techniques to combat pollinator decline. Based in Plymouth, Pollenize looks to tackle the challenges raised from recent studies from around the globe indicating a decline in pollinator and insect abundance, diversity, distribution and biomass. These species provide vital goods and services for wildlife, food production and human health and their decline threatens important natural processes.

What did they want?

Pollenize initially wanted to analysis the different pollen types and how they vary in shape and size; this was to potentially help identify pollen types bees were gathering. This was followed up by wanting to study bees that had collected pollen, so as to observe whether or not different types of pollen are being collected and if the pollen was only gathered at the bees legs. Finally, Pollenize wanted visual data on the tubes used by the bees to see if any pollen was being deposited that could be used for DNA analysis.

Agreed analysis plan

For the initial analysis it was agreed that multiple different clusters of pollen would be visually analysed to observe what the pollen looks like and to observe whether or not these clusters are made up of the same pollen type or multiple types. For the next analysis it was agreed to analyse bees before and after entering the hive to observe the pollen distribution on the bees prior to entering the hive and after leaving the hive. For the bees to be able to be analysed, they were first left to air dry (after death) for ~1 week, so as to survive the vacuum without any distortion of the body. For the final analysis, it was agreed to visually analyse both an exit and an entrance tube along with a control "fresh" tube for comparison.

Pollen analysis

Initial results showed that the different colours of pollen clusters had different types of pollen, with the size, shape, and texture all being different from each other. For the majority of the pollen clusters, the type of pollen observed was the same within a cluster, this would suggest that the bees that created those clusters obtained their pollen from the same species of plants. However, the orange pollen cluster was observed to have multiple different types of pollen, suggesting that the bees that created those clusters obtained their pollen from different species of plants. What was interesting though, it was observed that the pollen were adhered together with some sort of substance resembling a vale, this 'vale' may have come from the bees and could be how the pollen stays clustered together and attached to the bee's leg during transportation from plant-to-plant and back to the hive, without dropping off.

Bee analysis

The first part of this analysis looked at a bee that had the pollen sacks already removed, to check whether or not any pollen was left behind. It was observed that there was indeed pollen in various places across the bee and not just where the pollen sacks were on the legs. 

The second part of this analysis looked at bees that still had their pollen sacks attached, to see whether pollen was only on the sacks or also on parts of the bee. It was observed that there was a large amount of pollen across the entire bee, with the pollen covering large areas of the bee, not just where the sacks are. It was also observed that the pollen on the sacks were covered in the vale-like substance, as observed with the pollen analysis.

After comparing the second part with the first part, it was observed that the bee without pollen sacks also had the majority of the other pollen across its body removed.

Entrance tube analysis

Entrance tubes to the hive were analysed to see whether or not pollen gets deposited on them when bees travel through them, which can then be used for DNA identification of the plants the bees are collecting pollen from. Small clusters of pollen were observed across the tubes, which may be sufficient to obtain DNA results from. This may suggest that no further modifications are needed to collect excess pollen from bees entering the hive and only a tube is sufficient to collect enough pollen to carry out DNA analysis.

Company feedback

"We have thoroughly enjoyed working with PEMC on the various projects about pollen and bees. It has been a great learning process, especially in regards to pollen collection, as it has further enabled Pollenize to push on with other research projects. We look forward to any further ways we can keep working with the PEMC team."