Close up photo of a bee on a flower

Lauren Agnew

Research Q & A

What’s your hometown?

My hometown is Colleyville, Texas.

What are you currently working on?

This award has given me funds to test bees collected by the Native Bee Lab at the University of Minnesota to determine the heavy metal loads present in their body. Bees are arthropods, so they have a hard exoskeleton that protects their bodies. The heavy metals that bees consume through contaminated food, soil, or plant tissue can remain in their exoskeleton at detectable levels even when the bee is no longer living. The bees are analyzed using ICP-MS techniques that allow us to determine the heavy metal concentrations present in their bodies. The bee collection has a wide variety of different bee species collected from both urban and rural environments, so by analyzing them I will detect any species-specific differences in heavy metal concentration and determine if the heavy metal history of the collection site is correlated to the bee body heavy metal concentration. 

How did you get started/what drew you to your area of study?

I took my first Entomology class my Junior year of undergrad and loved it, so I asked my professor what I could do to get more entomology experience. I ended up volunteering in the insect collection and working with bees and I fell in love with how cute they were! I then had several different research technician positions after I graduated before coming to Minnesota, all to do with bees/insect conservation. By the time I came here, I was interested in the ecology and conservation of native bees and have focused on the effects of heavy metal pollution in particular.

Why are you focusing your work in that area?

There are many different factors that are impacting native bee populations – heavy metal pollution has been identified as one such factor. The impact of heavy metals on native bee populations is understudied, but as human populations grow and we continue to pollute our environment with heavy metals they will just become more and more of a problem. By understanding how native bees respond to heavy metal pollutants we can help with conservation efforts. 

How are you working towards that goal?

I am working towards this goal currently by determining which bees from the collection will be sent for ICP-MS analysis. In 2020 I collected bees from around the Twin Cities at sites with varying levels of heavy metal pollution in the soil and analyzed those bees to determine their heavy metal concentrations. By using the collection, I will be able to increase my sample size to species that were underrepresented from my 2020 collection attempts and include specific urban sites of heavy metal pollutant concern.

 

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