Birkdale scientist wins Fulbright scholarship to study pollen-counting techniques in the US

SCIENCE AWARD: Tori Reynolds is looking at the role pollinators play in native plant communities in highly fragmented agricultural landscapes.

SCIENCE AWARD: Tori Reynolds is looking at the role pollinators play in native plant communities in highly fragmented agricultural landscapes.

BIRKDALE resident, insect pollination researcher Victoria “Tori’’ Reynolds has won a 2017 postgraduate Fulbright Scholarship for her work on how insects work on pollinating plants.

Ms Reynolds, of the University of Queensland and CSIRO, will study at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, probably leaving in October.

Her work is expected to boost agricultural production and be used to better protect native species.

Ms Reynolds said she had always been interested in insects, even as a child.

“I was always the kid who was collecting insects,’’ she said.

As she started studying science she was drawn towards ecology issues and then the role of insects in pollination of plants.

She has since done substantial work on which insects are best at pollinating crops and native plants.

Ms Reynolds said that although many people thought only about European bees as pollinators, there was actually a huge range of native species like flies and beetles doing major pollination work.

Although she had done painstaking work in the field finding insects and working out which of these species was shifting the most pollen, the scholarship would help her to use the what is known as DNA meta-barcoding, the latest genetic and technological method to increase understanding of plant and pollinator interactions.

She said she hoped to develop the technology which would be used by pollination ecologists worldwide.

FIELD WORK: Tori Reynolds in the field, with a canola crop in the background. Pollination ecologists are renowned for what seems almost insane feats of patience as they follow insects and count tiny pollens.

FIELD WORK: Tori Reynolds in the field, with a canola crop in the background. Pollination ecologists are renowned for what seems almost insane feats of patience as they follow insects and count tiny pollens.

“The project will be very important for agriculture and biodiversity conservation and help decipher how pollinators are foraging in agro-ecosystems around the world,’’ she said.

“This is a key area of research for the future of agricultural production and biodiversity conservation.

“...A lot of people are surprised to know there are lots of flies, beetles, butterflies and moths contributing to all kinds of crops and flowers,’’ she said. “You wouldn’t think that flies could carry so much pollen.’’

She said a simple boost for Redland gardens was to leave some logs and soils undisturbed which helped the many species of native bees survive and service plants.

Ms Reynolds will also spend her time in the US developing a research network of American and Australian scientists at the forefront of insect pollination research.

She is looking at the role of pollinators in native plant communities in fragmented agricultural landscapes and is conducting work in south-west Western Australia, a major diversity hotspot which was once covered by native woodlands.

“Many of the canola fields ... are grown in areas with nearby remnant York gum vegetation,” she said. “Therefore, adjacent canola fields may increase the competition for pollinators for native annual wildflower communities, particularly as canola blooms concurrently with the majority of annual wildflowers.’’

Ms Reynolds said pollination ecologists were known for what seemed almost insane feats of patience, including the most trying task of all, counting pollen.