“Bombus!” Kristin sounds the alarm, pointing toward the large buzzing bumblebee attracted to her white baseball cap. Immediately, Christine, armed at all times with her insect net, springs into action. I’ve never seen someone run so quickly across the tundra – Christine running after a Bombus is truly an amazing sight.
“Wham!” Christine’s net hits the ground. Success again! Trapped inside her net is a surprisingly large (at least the size of two Hershey kisses) bumblebee, buzzing in anger and confusion. With no hesitation, Christine expertly slips a vial into the net, taps the bee into the vial, and there – another sample caught!
In Greenland, there are two bumblebee species: Bombus polaris and Bombus hyperboreus. B. hyperboreus is a parasitic bee – that is, the queens will take over a B. polaris nest and trick the worker bees, who never realize they aren’t working for their own queen. Not many people have studied bumblebees in the Arctic, so with each Bombus capture, Christine added valuable information to what we know. A good reason to celebrate each new sample!
From our pollination experts Christine and Zak, we also learned that arctic plants are often pollen limited. If the flowers are given additional pollen, they are able to produce more seeds. In order to get more pollen, plants compete for pollinators, putting on showy displays and enticing insects with yummy nectar. To test just how pollen limited arctic plants are, Christine had us set up a simple experiment using Niviarsiaq (the national flower of Greenland). On some plants, we tied mesh bags around flowers to exclude pollinators.
On other plants, we added pollen by hand, mimicking the role of a bumblebee. A third set of plants we identified as controls. Later this summer, Christine will collect the seedpods from all of the plants and compare how many seeds each plant was able to produce. If the hypothesis is correct, and the plants are pollen limited, the hand-pollinated plants should be the most successful!
Last year, after living in the tundra for six full weeks, I hadn’t given pollination a thought. I vaguely remembered seeing what might have been a bumblebee. This year, however, my perspective has completely changed. Whenever I hear the frequent buzz of Bombus, my head immediately turns and I think, “Go, Christine, go get it!” Many thanks, Christine and Zak, for teaching us the art of Bombus-ing!