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Project update 2.1 (February 2012)

Progress during Period One of Year Two: Nov 1st 2011 to February 28th 2012

In this period from December to February, we focused on the lab work needed to prepare our pollen samples collected during the previous spring pollen dearth season for analysis of the nitrogen content. Once we have the nitrogen levels, they will be multiplied by a standard constant factor to give the percentage of protein in the pollen. For each pollen sample we have made a herbarium voucher specimen of the plant from which the bee with pollen was taken and also a voucher microscope slide of the pollen for identification. Pollen is best identified when the pollen grain has been emptied of cell contents, much like looking at a human skeleton under X-Rays. To do this, we put a small sub-sample of the pollen pellets from the “bee leg” collections into a process called acetolysis which clears the cell contents using two strong acids (sulphuric and acetic anhydride) under a fume hood. We then extracted the cleared pollen and mounted it on microscope slides for identification under the compound microscope. This results in an excellent view of many features of the pollen grain that facilitates an accurate identification. The rest of the pollen in the sample was then used for the nitrogen analyses. We were assisted in this work by Gaye Rattray at Landcare Research, an expert in pollen preparations, and our technician, Finn Scheele, who is also doing the photography of the flowers and pollen pellets for this part of the project.

We are collaborating with scientists from the GNS Science labs: Dr. Karyne Rogers for the nitrogen analysis and Dr Ian Raine and Dr Xun Li for pollen identification. In early February, we deposited 84 samples of pollen for nitrogen analysis at GNS. These samples represented 34 plant species with some replication. In addition, twenty-four of these samples are from twelve hive trap pollen collections that have been sorted by colour. Since these hive trap samples are not strictly matched to a flower from which we observed the bee collecting pollen, they will be more difficult to positively identify but we are working on ways to deliver the nitrogen (protein) information at the hive level rather than the plant species level. Some of the hive trap pollen may be identified down to species depending on time and resources and on how difficult the pollen type is for identification at the species level.

We are continuing to collect bees with pollen baskets full of pollen from flowers as the most cost-effective way to get the species level data for nitrogen analysis. Many beekeepers are helping us to find bees taking pollen from plants at their apiaries. For nine plant species we were able to collect pollen directly from flowers because they had sufficient pollen to readily extract for nitrogen analysis. We are continuing to collect some hive trap pollen from selected apiaries to establish a seasonal pattern across the year. The next period March to June is a critical pollen dearth time so our focus will now turn from the lab back onto prioritizing the pollen collection field work.

We have also been working on setting up demonstration farms to show that planting good bee forage does result in an improvement in hive strength and bee population numbers for pollination services. We have been organizing this with two beekeepers and two Mid Canterbury arable farmers and will report on this next period. We are also continuing to work with beekeepers and farmers in the Gisborne and Waikato regions as well.

Our dissemination of information has increased vastly as many people are now requesting our Bee Plant Guides, brochures, coloring pages, and stickers to use in their exhibits at A&P shows and various community events. We have had requests from Invercargill and Bay of Plenty through Federated Farmers. Media interest continued as we were interviewed on Rob’s Country Show for CTV. For the third year in a row, we delivered information at exhibits in the Canterbury and Nelson A&P shows as well as in several towns in the Christchurch area near Amberley.