Bees from the trees go into deep freeze

Wild honeybees being preserved for research. Credit – Sara Dixon.
Oct 16 2023 Posted: 11:34 IST

University of Northampton scientists a buzz with support for University of Galway researchers in the field


Academic colleagues in the UK have come to the rescue of a University of Galway research team who needed urgent help with an important bee ecology project.

After the team led by Professor Grace McCormack spent time in the woodland investigating wild honeybee populations, the University of Northampton’s Science department opened their doors giving them access to urgently-needed, cold storage equipment and expertise.

University of Galway had travelled to Northampton for the study of the rare insects as part of a research project focusing on their survival and adaptation in unique forest habitats in Britain and its application to sustainable beekeeping.

Like other species of bees and other pollinators, wild honeybees are vitally important as they help produce the next generation of plants, including the fruit and crops we eat.

The University of Galway team went to Boughton Estate Forests in Northampton to compare the DNA of wild bees to conventionally managed bees that are kept in hives.

After collecting samples of bees, they needed support with freezing the samples as quickly as possible to avoid any deterioration of the bees’ DNA so the samples could be safely transported back to Galway for testing. This is where University of Northampton came in.

Chiara Binetti, Research Assistant with University of Galway Honey Bee Research Centre, said: “There’s much to be learned from wild-living colonies of honeybees. Survival under natural selection and adaptation of free-living bees in old UK forests is currently being investigated, thanks to collaboration between beekeepers and scientists – this might be the key to unlocking their secrets and potential, and possibly inform more sustainable bee keeping.

Overall, the team are aiming to sample 90 colonies at three sites in Britain, including Boughton, Blenheim and one other location.

Beekeepers at the research study locations have been supporting wild honeybees in their natural environment, including through the creation of nest sites for wild colonies using log hives.

University of Galway introduced a log hive on campus this year.

Ms Binetti said: “We are indebted to the people in the local honeybee group who identified the wild colonies, helped to sample them, and also wish to acknowledge the valued assistance of Dr Alexandra Woodacre in University of Northampton, and her colleagues, in supporting us by preserving our samples until further examination.”

The analysis of the wild honeybees will include assessment of the diversity of the colony; the extent of hybridisation; and population dynamics.

Dr Alexandra Woodacre, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Bioscience, was part of the University of Northampton team who were buzzing with delight to lend a helping hand for University of Galway’s research.

“Bees play such a key role in shaping our natural environment and contributing to food security and this project is really exciting and should find out how diverse honey bees really are,” Dr Woodacre said.

“We were more than happy to support Galway’s exciting research and provided lab facilities and technical expertise to process the samples by freeze drying and then storing them so they can be transported back to Galway for further analysis. My colleagues Joe Bauwens and Stefan Davis monitored the samples for several days.  

“I look forward to supporting the University of Galway research team when they come to Northamptonshire again to survey the bees.”


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