Anita Pearson

Student’s love of science takes flight

A lifetime fascination for the natural world led to an insightful summer of science in the company of the humble bumble bee for University of Waikato science student Anita Pearson. 

Anita was a participant in Plant & Food Research’s Summer Studentship programme. The programme aims to give industry experience to high-calibre tertiary students who may be considering a career as a scientist or industry professional, allowing them to work on real research projects alongside world-recognised scientists.

Under the supervision of Plant & Food Research’s Fruit Crop Physiology research associates Brian Cutting and Lisa Evans, Anita has been exploring how small radio transmitters attached to bumble bees might affect their behaviour and physiology.

“This involved shaving the abdomen of queen bees reared in the lab and then carefully gluing the transmitters in place,” says Anita.

“Using high-speed cameras, we filmed the queen bees flying inside a wind tunnel, both with and without the transmitters. We then analysed the footage, with the aim of identifying any differences in wing beat frequency, stroke and body angle.”

It’s important work. Bumble bees are highly effective pollinators, but their colonies die off in late summer, meaning new nests need to be populated annually. Bumble bee rearing is also time-consuming and expensive.

“It’s hoped that by tracking bumble bee movements, we can determine their search behaviour and nesting preferences. From this, we can look to design nesting boxes which are appealing to the insect, meaning a low-cost alternative for pollinating specific crops.”

Anita heard about the Summer Studentship programme after a presentation by Plant & Food Research at her university.

“The programme has been incredibly useful for gaining insight into scientific research and the diversity of science careers. I’ve had the opportunity to see some fantastic projects and work with very talented people.”

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