The University of Central Oklahoma REU Site will provide a research program for undergraduates during the summers of 2009-2012. Six students will be selected each year to participate in an intensive eight-week research program that involves collaboration by an international team of scientists from the United States, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. We pose behavioral and ecological hypotheses that use honey bees and solitary bees as model systems. The questions we address are basic in nature but have clear relevance to applied (agricultural) systems in the region where we work. Specifically, we address topics germane to invasive species in pollination systems, decision-making by foraging honey bees and learning patterns in honey bees as influenced by environmental factors. These investigations have direct application to crop pollination and the apicultural industry in Eurasia where honey bees and the solitary bees we study are native. Prior to departing for the field portion of the program, students will be immersed in a one-week course that focuses on experimental design and the history and nature of science; students also participate in the publication process and are supported in their development toward post-graduate studies. We intend to support a generation of scientists who understand the developing world and the relationship between the diversity of human culture and intellectual innovation. Students therefore participate in enrichment activities that include exposure to some of the most significant locations in human history that include archaeological sites along the Dardanelles (near Istanbul), the Aegean islands and throughout western Turkey. Since many large-scale ecological issues (including invasive species and associated pathogens) originate from outside the United States (a result of agricultural enterprise), the international and multicultural collaborations in the program represent a key ingredient in training our student participants to study biological systems in the modern world. This program is supported by funds from the National Science Foundation?s Directorate of Biological Sciences and Office of International Science and Engineering. Additional information can be found at, or by contacting the Principal Investigator, Dr. John F. Barthell, at 405-974-2481;

Project Report

The honey bee pollinates billions of dollars worth of North American agricultural crops each year. It also represents a model organism for a range of biological studies, from molecular to ecosystem levels of organization. However, this important pollinator species is not native to this region of the world but originates instead from Asia, Europe, and Africa. Worldwide, honey bees are becoming increasingly threatened by the synergistic effects of pathogens, parasites, and/or pesticides that are now converging on their populations throughout much of the United States. We therefore study the honey bee as a way to understand the facets of this organism that make it one of the most successful invasive species in the world while considering the broader impact of this understanding on human systems. Our studies have examined the honey bee in one of the areas of the world where it is native: the Republic of Turkey and its border regions. Three broad areas of investigation during the project include: 1) the foraging behavior of honey bees, 2) pollinator interactions and their effects in plant communities, and 3) the impact of chemicals (including pesticides) on honey bee behavior and mortality. Most of the work was done collaboratively with the Beekeeping Development-Application and Research Center at Uludag University near Bursa, Turkey. Broader impacts of the program are encouraged by involving students from underrepresented groups and high school educators in a highly collaborative international research setting. Our work has yielded an international collaboration among faculty members from Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, and the United States. Program participants generated at least 33 manuscripts that were published (or in press) and 61% of these had student coauthors; at least 45 poster and/or oral presentations were also given at conferences, with 91% of these coauthored by students. Of the 43 students participating in the program, 70% were from groups underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines and, among those who had completed their undergraduate degrees, 58% have gone on to post-graduate educational pathways. This relatively high response rate may be attributed to many factors, but the involvement of students in research is known to have a positive influence on academic success. Understanding the biology of honey bees in their native environment contributes to an important vantage point on the global scale at which phenomena such as biological invasions and disease epidemics operate. Behavioral, ecological, and genetic aspects of this invasive and economically important species need to be understood synthetically and in a global context. Our studies have provided this insight through a growing international collaboration of present and future scientists. Broader impacts of the work include informing our understanding of Colony Collapse Disorder and other aspects of world-wide pollinator decline that impact both natural and agricultural systems in the United States.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
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Sophie George
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University of Central Oklahoma
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