Case study

Sarah’s research aims to help save the bees

BSc (Hons) Biology student, Sarah Reynolds, has carried out fully-funded research to find out how to reduce the danger to bees from pesticides, mites and our changing environment. The University's Undergraduate Research Scholarship Scheme has enabled her to investigate why so many bee species are facing extinction.

Without bees, our crops will struggle

There are growing concerns that many bee species are in danger due to the current change in our environment. Bees are important to our ecosystem as they are large contributors to the pollination of flowers and crops, and without them, we would struggle to grow flowers and produce food. 35 bee species now face extinction (Soil Association, 2020), so there is no better time to carry out research to see how we can help these species survive.

Fully funded undergraduate research

The University offers second-year students a chance to apply for a fully-funded research project called the ‘Undergraduate Research Scholarship Scheme (URSS)’. A bursary of £2,000 is given to each student who receives a place on this scheme, allowing them to learn essential research skills and explore a topic they are passionate about. After successful submission of her proposal, Sarah took full advantage of this fully-funded research project and decided to focus her attention on the behaviour of honeybees when exposed to mites and pesticides, as research into this combination has never been carried out before. Sarah stated she was interested in this area as she “wanted to raise awareness of the impact of pesticides.”

Sarah’s research used the BEEHAVE model to provide a basis for future researchers to develop. Whilst using the modelling software ‘BEEHAVE’, Sarah was able to simulate honeybee colonies exposed to mites and neonicotinoid pesticides individually and in combination in varying degrees of severity. Statistical analysis of the results obtained was used to determine the significance of the effects.

A colony of honeybees working on bee hive

Sarah found conducting the research extremely helpful in expanding her knowledge and has raised awareness of this issue to a wide audience to support these species. Sarah commented:

“I developed my skills in using different software and developed my understanding of statistics, which helped with my learning throughout the rest of my degree.”

Sarah enjoyed working with her supervisor and discussing the project and any implications throughout the scheme, and stated that the “support helped me to develop my knowledge of the area and to think critically.”

Pesticide ban

As Sarah was conducting her research project, neonicotinoid pesticides were banned in the UK, which highlights the impact that scientific research can have on government policies. Sarah highlights that “much more research is needed in this area. Whilst neonicotinoid pesticides are now banned in the UK, this does not encompass all pesticides used within the farming industry which impact honeybees, bumblebees and butterflies.” This research demonstrated that the impact of pesticides on honeybees is not only significant but is increased further when honeybees are weakened by mites which are widespread throughout colonies.

Farmer in tractor spraying pesticides on crops

Research advice

Sarah would recommend anyone who wants “to start their own research to thoroughly research the topic to gain a good understanding of the area which they wish to contribute to, and to choose a topic which they are interested in and enjoy, as this will allow you to be more passionate about the project. This applies not only to projects within the URSS but also to independent studies projects in the final year.”