The Elephants and Bees Pollen Library Project

Report written by international intern Justin Krohn

Bees represent an important piece of the Elephants and Bees project but are sometimes overlooked compared to their elephant compatriots. The Elephants and Bees project has set up a very cool project that I’ve been able to assist with, that will fill in some of the knowledge gaps regarding what the bees in the area use for pollen sources and will enhance the impact of the Elephant and Bees project.

The Disney Conservation Fund is photographing pollen samples that are being collected by Elephants and Bees interns and staff under an electron microscope. The goal is to be able to sample honey made by the honeybees and identify which plants the bees are using as sources of nectar and pollen. That information can then be disseminated to our farmers so they can maintain the vegetation around their farms to maximize honey production in their hives.

Grewia tenax pollen grains at 40x magnification

Stachytarpheta jamaicensis pollen grains at 40x magnification


To collect the pollen, you first spread a little bit of Fuchsin gel onto a microscope slide. You then remove an anther of the flower and lightly dab it onto the surface of the gel which should transfer the pollen. You then place a cover slip over the gel and heat the gel from the bottom of the slide with a lighter while simultaneously pressing on the top of the cover slip so that the gel spreads evenly between the slide and the cover slip, securing the pollen grains inside. Two slides need to be created for each sample, one for the research center and one for Disney to photograph. Unfortunately, my arrival in camp has coincided with the end of the rains and the subsequent disappearance of many of the flowers in the area. I was able to be trained in the collection of pollen samples, but I haven’t been able to collect any new ones from the field yet.

One of the few flowers blooming when I arrived is an invasive cactus species


My work on this project so far has mostly consisted of examining and inputting the pollen photographs from Disney into our existing flowering plants/pollen library and trying to identify plants in the library that have yet to be identified to the genus and species.

Gloria and Tsavo the dog on the trail to the flowering calendar plot


Identifying unknown plants has proven to be a challenge as there is not a single comprehensive plant guide for the area, which makes this particular project all the more important. This bit of research combined with other data (like the flowering calendar plots) which are being collected about bees, will further enhance the impact the project has on the community. These data will hopefully not only lead to a reduction in human-elephant conflict, but also help strengthen the floral and pollinator biodiversity in the Sagalla hill region.

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