The research at the MLC based on Orchid bees (Euglossa) was by far the most interesting piece of research… in my opinion. For me these little bees were fascinating, as was the research. The reasoning behind this project was to explore more into the world of orchids and the bees that pollinate them as they have a symbiotic relationship – the orchids depend on the bees to pollination and reproduction, in return, the bees get fragrance compounds they use during courtship displays.
Euglossa, are a bright metallic green/blue colour orchid bees that are native to the neotropics. These bees are studied as they have an interesting relationship to orchids that are hard to research as they are found high up in the canopy of the rainforest. Unlike the plant, orchid bees are lower down nearer the forest floor collecting pollen from various plants making research easier to carry out. Orchid bees pollinate over 650 different orchid species.
The research was looking at the different scents that attract the male bee, who are the sole collectors of pollen and use these scents as a courtship mechanism. The male species exhibit different behaviour as it collects the pollen and have uniquely modified legs which are used to collect and store different volatile compounds from orchids.
Before carrying out the research several different sites had been identified by the lead researcher, these site were in and around the MLC as well as close to the agroforestry plantation on the other side of the river. There were three sites on each side all with GPS points for reference. The research began by getting to the site which had been allocated for that specific day. On arrival to each site, the area had to be prepped for the morning’s research. All the scents had to be carefully pipetted onto the cottonwool. There was a wide variety of scents in the initial stage of the research: eucalyptus, vanillin, benzyl acetate, eugenol acetate, eucalyptol to name a few. After the initial stages, these scents where modified based on the results collected, ready for the three weeks of intense data collection. Two drops of scent where placed on the corresponding pieces of cotton wool and then hung a meter or two apart at a level in which the collectors could see if an unfortunate bee approached. These bees had to be killed, hard concept for a conservationist to get your head around, as the initial thought is, no I should be conserving species not killing them. This was the underlying reason why out of all the volunteers I was perhaps the only one willing to go on this particular research project. You may be thinking I’m cold hearted and not fit to be a conservationist if I’m willing to kill something that doesn’t necessarily need to die…… you may be right. However, it is very difficult to identify orchid bees, and this identification can’t be done in the field and with limited resources at the MLC it couldn’t be carried out there either. Orchid bees also are very good at reproducing and therefore the population size wouldn’t be diminished. This meant having to kill them in ethanol after catching them. Sad to say, catching the orchid bees in nets and missing quite a lot was rather enjoyable.