Villanova, Pa.—Pollinators—including bees—help spread the pollen needed to fertilize about a third of the world’s food supply. Without them, food crops can’t thrive. Pollinators are critical for plant reproduction and human food security, but many pollinator species are declining due to stressors including pathogens.
As a result, governments, non-profit organizations, industry and the public are investing in pollinator habitat, providing an opportunity to understand how different flower species affect pollinators and their pathogens. Megan Povelones, PhD, assistant professor of Biology in Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has been named a co-principal investigator on a three-year, $509,154 National Science Foundation project that will help determine how to keep key pollinators healthier.
“IntBIO: Collaborative Research: Integrating molecular, cellular, organismal and community scales to understand how plants structure pollinator-pathogen dynamics,” will study the effect of different plant diets on infection of bumblebees with the parasite Crithidia bombi. The work will involve a collaboration between Povelones—a molecular biologist who specializes in parasitology—several ecologists, conservation biologists, and a mathematical modeler.
“Our work will combine molecular studies to understand how pollen from different plant species shape infection and assess how pathogens are transmitted at flowers,” Dr. Povelones explains. “We will also partner with land managers, observe pollinator visitation and measure pollinator infection to create models that predict how floral resources affect pollinator health.”
The project will include conducting extensive public outreach, developing an after-school curriculum for middle-school students from an underserved community, and training graduate students in inclusive teaching practices. The other co-principal investigators on the project are Lynn Adler, PhD, Laura Figueroa, PhD and Philip Stevenson, PhD of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; Christopher Myers, PhD of Cornell University; Shalene Jha of the University of Texas at Austin; and Rebecca Irwin, PhD, of North Carolina State University.
The project will provide research opportunities for Villanova undergraduate and graduate students, offering them a multidisciplinary training environment and the chance to work with both Dr. Povelones and the other co-principal investigators on-site at their universities. They will have the chance to conduct research directly with a parasitologist, ecologists and conservation biologists.
“This project has a real connection to everyday lives,” Dr. Povelones says. “Taken together, this work will build bridges between disciplines to help us understand how flowers affect pollinator health, and will train a new diverse generation of scientists,”
Dr. Povelones’ research interests include mitochondrial biology, mitochondrial DNA replication and kinetoplastid biology. She holds a doctorate from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenging and changing world. With more than 40 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.