In Germany, the rapeseed honey produced in the spring is known to have an exceptionally sweet taste, and draws a great demand in the honey market. As a beekeeper for eight years, Olivia Box ’17 did not want to miss the opportunity to learn about rapeseed honey and work with bees. This summer, she joined the research group of Sina Alizadeh and Hermann Behling at University of Göttingen in Germany. The goal of the research is to determine the efficiency of pollination at various hive placements.
Beekeepers often keep their hives in or around rapeseed fields, so that bees can easily pollinate the rapeseed fields and produce honey. However, since there is no control over where the bees go, the team intends to enlist the help of local beekeepers to find out the best places to install hives so that more rapeseed fields are pollinated and honey is produced.
The research is divided into field and lab time, and involved significant outreach as well. The team reached out to local beekeepers, who generously provided samples. Under the microscopes, the team would examine samples, identify pollen and determine the pollen ratios. They also compared organic and non-organic honey to see if there is a difference in the pollen ratios.
These ratios were then applied to the geographic information system (GIS) map of the area in order to investigate the relationship to land usage, and find out if the placement of beehives is efficient to maximize the bees’ ability to pollinate the fields.
Interestingly, Box found the ratios of pollen in rapeseed honey vary tremendously. There was even a sample with no rapeseed pollen present at all. She is looking forward to analyzing more results as they come out. She is particularly interested in how the pollination patterns affect the honey production. Additionally, the result might raise other important questions in the beekeeping world, such as what species of flowers bees prefer, and why. In the end, she hopes to be able to produce solid results that may present applicable management suggestions to beekeepers so they can best maintain their apiaries in a way that maximizes both profit and colony health.
While this experience doesn’t directly align with her future plans, Box believes she has gained a lot from the experience, particularly in helping her build GIS skills. Also, she noted that she learned advocacy in science: “I definitely learned that in order to get things done, you have to be sure to reach out to people and pursue things- you never know how it could help you later.”
Box will continue to work with the research group back in the States. She is planning to pursue a graduate degree in Forest Ecosystem Science. Ultimately, she is interested in research and teaching, with a focus on ecosystem science and communicating science to the public, and, hopefully, keeping bees.