Biosciences majors to present at Student Academic Conference on April 14

By Brittany Dunnigan

When many people think of bees, honey is the first thing that comes to mind. These incredible little insects, however, play a much larger role in sustaining our ecosystem than simply supplying this sweet treat.

Senior James Kawlewski and junior Marissa Reeves, Biosciences students at MSUM, both agree that bees are essential to pollination and biodiversity. By working with MSUM Biosciences Professor Sarah Anderson, the students have conducted research to identify the number of different bee species that exist in Clay County to determine the level of biodiversity in the area.

James Kawlewski
James Kawlewski

This task is much more challenging than it may seem. The process of identifying different bee species is an elaborate procedure that takes extensive time and incredible patience. With nearly 30,000 different bee species in the world, incredible attention to detail is necessary.

“This research project has been going on for a couple of years because there was difficulty figuring out which procedures to use on the bees because few studies have been done on native bees in this area,” Reeves said. “The general process of identifying one single bee can take up to a few hours.”

Many species of bees are cryptic, meaning they look the same to the human eye upon appearance, when in reality they have a different genetic makeup. This was the challenge of this particular project, which is why the students used DNA barcoding to determine the different species.

The students joined this exciting research project as part of their molecular ecology class. This particular opportunity drew their attention because of its focus on biodiversity and unique subjects.

“I am very interested in biodiversity and love photography, so I photograph bees all the time and know how hard they are to identify,” Kawlewski said. “I wanted to learn more about them and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

Kawlewski and Reeves have different areas of expertise, which makes them a perfect team for the project. “Marissa knows more about the molecular and genetics side and I know more about the ecology side, so we work really well together,” Kawlewski said.

Marissa Reeves
Marissa Reeves

Kawlewski and Reeves will present their research at the Student Academic Conference. Their presentation will explain the process they used to collect the bees and analyze the results. They will also talk about the importance of pollinators such as bees to the ecosystem.

“We want people to understand that the different pollinators in our area affect people directly because if we lose pollinators, we lose the flowers, crops and everything we need to sustain life,” Reeves said. “That is why this type of research is so important.”

By meticulously executing their experiment and sharing their research findings, the students hope to make this process easier for others in the future.