Molly Jacobson

Molly Jacobson

Molly Jacobson, a wildlife and conservation biology major, has always had an interest in insects. She studied and photographed them as a hobby long before she had the opportunity to study bees native to New Hampshire as part of a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). Molly worked at the UNH Bee Lab under the mentorship of Dr. Sandra Rehan. We asked Molly tell us about her SURF experience and how it will help her in her future studies and work, including her senior thesis.

What was the focus of your SURF work?

My SURF research focused on native bee pollinators in southern New Hampshire. Very little is known about the status of native bees and their declines due to human activities, even less so in New Hampshire. The goal for this research was to add to our knowledge of the diversity of native bees in the state and learn more about the interactions between particular native bees and flowers. These floral associations can affect bees’ vulnerability to habitat loss. We also wanted to determine the impacts of agricultural practices (mowing, pesticide use, and the subsequent ability to support floral resources) on native bee communities.

The study was performed at four farms owned by UNH—Woodman, Kingman, Thompson, and the Organic Dairy Research Farm—which all differed in their mowing and spraying regimes. We (fellow lab member Jake Withee and I) went to these farms every other week early in the morning and set out colored pan traps. We returned to collect the bees mid-day, and at this time we also swept flowering plants with nets to collect flying bees. We swept only one flower species at a time to isolate the ecological interactions between bee and plant. Back in the lab, I sorted, pinned, catalogued, and identified the bees to morphospecies if not taxonomic species. During the summer we collected over 4,000 bees, and the masses of data will be analyzed by Dr. Tucker, a USDA research fellow working at the Bee Lab.

What aspects of your SURF experience were most exciting to you?

The entire research experience was exciting for me. I don’t think it could have been better. Having the chance to delve into the ecology of bees and their life histories, their anatomy, behavior, and taxonomy, and the sheer diversity present in just the Durham area alone—it was astounding and a joy to take part in. And although I definitely spent a lot of quality time with the pinned bees, being able to observe live bees in the field really rejuvenated my spirit! I gained the skill of noticing so many bees where I hadn’t been aware of them before. Now I can identify most of them at least to genus on the wing. That ability to see bees all around me—pollinating, nesting, just doing their thing, where they’ve always been—it’s like for the first time I’m finally realizing they’re there and I can name them and know something about their lives . . . it’s a truly amazing feeling and only adds to my motivation and enthusiasm to teach others and work to protect these pollinators.

How do you think your SURF experience will help you in your future studies and work?

This SURF has had a tremendous impact on me. It has led me closer to knowing what kind of work I want to do in the future. I have decided to continue my work in the Bee Lab with my honors thesis on bumblebee declines in New Hampshire, using museum specimens and the bees we caught in the summer. I have logged hundreds of hours in the lab, gained expertise in specimen processing and identification, and learned much about field methods for diversity surveys and community monitoring. More than anything, I have made many new friends and connections in the discipline I wish to build a career in. My love of entomology drives me, and so do my convictions about preservation of the natural world. This project brings both to fruition beautifully, and is truly important research in its field. I am very proud to be a part of it. All of this is invaluable to me and will certainly benefit my studies and work going forward from here.

Read more about Molly and her experience as an intern at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in UNH Today.