The small child sitting in front of me on the airplane began screaming “Nairobi, Nairobi, Naiii-roo-biii, Nairobi!” about an hour before the plane landed in Kenya. It was a pleasant change from the unintelligible gibberish that filled the previous 8 hours, and thus my anticipation for our upcoming honeybee collecting expedition was only heightened. Naiiroobiii indeed!
Like many great (and apparently many not so great) scientific endeavors before it, this one began in a bar. You’ve no doubt heard that honey bees are not doing well in North America and Europe, and that there are many underlying causes to these declines. Mix in a little dipsomania, and the traditional scientific debate on the relative contributions of pesticides, climate change, land-use modification, etc on bee declines can rise to ‘robust’ levels quite quickly. Fortunately, after the conclusion of one such discussion, a fellow PhD student at Penn State University, Zach Fuller decided he was in a position to do something (more substantial) about this uncertainty. With the help a Young Explorer’s Grant from the National Geographic Society, Zach linked up with a group of researchers at Penn State University and their colleagues in Kenya to organize this collecting trip with a simple goal: gather up samples of healthy honey bee populations from across Kenya. I joined this trip to help with the collections, do most of the heavy lifting, and occasionally document the ups and downs that inevitably arise along the way.
Why honeybee samples from Kenya you might ask? Well, these samples will contribute to a global study on the role that viruses play in honey bee health and colony declines. These samples from Kenya will provide important comparative information from a region where populations are, for the moment, remaining healthy. With a background in bioinformatics, Zach will also contribute to the analysis part later on, but we’re getting ahead of things (plus, I’ll let him explain the genomics stuff…).
These blog postings will mostly cover our experiences and thoughts over the next few weeks we spend in the field (internet connection willing). Or maybe they’ll head in another direction? We’ll find out together…
So here we are. In Nairobi. The people we’ve met thus far keep complaining the 70 degree weather is cold, but I anticipate we’ll run into hardier challenges in the coming weeks. The next day or two will be spent working out of ICIPE – the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology. Tomorrow we focus on the inevitable hiccups of finalizing research permits and travel logistics before we head off to begin sampling in Naivasha mid-week.
So stay tuned. More to come.