Finding funding for some research projects is incredibly difficult, especially for newer researchers. For phenomena which have only been recently described, finding funding is even more difficult than finding funding for more established research areas. Because of this, there are a lot of labs which rely on citizen science projects or volunteer work to gather data. You have a chance to help a really cool and interesting project that can help us understand a new problem that honeybees are facing – through crowdfunding.
In 2012, a team of researchers led by Andrew Core discovered that a parasitoid fly, Apocephalus borealis, which normally attacks native bees, was shifting hosts to Apis mellifera. Many of the parasitized bees were found around lights at night, which is a stark contrast to the normal day-flying behavior of the bees. They hypothesized that many of these parasitized bees were likely abandoning their colonies, which is a common occurrence with sick bees.
Pesticides and pathogens can change social roles of bees in one of two ways. First, they can change the roles of the bees within the colony. Second, they can cause complete abandonment of social roles. It is not always clear whether these responses are entirely detrimental to the parasite, as they may allow new colonies to be infected through a phenomena known as ‘worker drift’.
Erika’s project, as it relates to Apocephalus, is to observe the behavior of parasitized bees to get a better handle on whether Apocephalus indeed causes hive abandonment. This means observing bees to determine whether they’re abandoning their social roles, and determining what the timeline of this abandonment is.
The second part of the project, the more expensive part, revolves around looking at how gene transcription changes in response to Apocephalus infection. Specifically, she’s interested in determining whether there are changes in the production of genes which tell the bee whether it’s night or day.
It’s an interesting project, and is sure to shed some light on honeybee behavior. Unfortunately, this sort of data can’t be generated without funds. The Apocephalus/Apis system is not as well established as, say, the Varroa/Apis system. Furthermore, the Varroa/Apis relationship probably has a larger impact on overall honeybee health. This means that funds are more available for these than for other systems.
This is where crowdfunding comes in. This is a relatively new idea, and this article from Thompson-Reuters gets more into the concept and the pros and cons of the approach. Ultimately, there are plenty of struggling programs which study some things which are potentially important. Erika’s program is one such example, and her lab has begun to embark on this grand experiment in science funding.
If you want to help support this important experiment, you can donate to Erika’s project through Experiment.com. As of the time of this writing, there are 10 days left to donate!