Fel­low­ship awarded to study en­dan­gered yel­low-faced bee

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - NEWS - By KIRSTEN JOHN­SON Email Kirsten John­son at kjohn­son@hawai­itri­bune-her­ald.com.

A Univer­sity of Hawaii at Hilo re­searcher was awarded a pres­ti­gious fel­low­ship to study the di­ver­sity of Hawaii’s na­tive bees.

Jonathan Koch, 32, is one of five doc­tor­ate ap­pli­cants se­lected from around the world for the 2018 David H. Smith Con­ser­va­tion Re­search Fel­low­ship by the So­ci­ety for Con­ser­va­tion Bi­ol­ogy and the Cedar Tree Foun­da­tion.

The fel­low­ship is con­sid­ered “the na­tion’s premier post­doc­toral pro­gram in con­ser­va­tion sci­ence,” ac­cord­ing to a UH-Hilo news re­lease.

Koch’s two-year fel­low­ship amounts to $150,000. His project is ti­tled, “The nalo meli ‘apa‘akuma project: Char­ac­ter­iz­ing pop­u­la­tion ge­nomic di­ver­sity of im­per­iled Hawai­ian Hy­laeus bees to in­form stake­hold­ers on in situ breed­ing and habi­tat man­age­ment strate­gies.”

Koch said Hawaii is home to about 60 dif­fer­ent types of bees not found any­where else in the world. He said his project in­volves study­ing the ge­netic di­ver­sity of those Hawaii bee pop­u­la­tions and de­ter­min­ing which are most “in­bred” — which in­di­cates vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

In 2016, seven of Hawaii’s yel­low-faced bee species were granted fed­eral pro­tec­tion un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act, a first for any bee species in the coun­try.

“Once we know, we can de­ter­mine which are less in­bred than others and we can kind of give them a hand by maybe plant­ing more flow­ers and mak­ing sure (in) more of their habi­tats they can find suit­able nest­ing sites,” Koch said dur­ing a phone in­ter­view Tues­day. “… We want to learn about their ge­netic makeup to in­form man­age­ment and con­ser­va­tion strate­gies.”

“It’s re­ally ex­cit­ing be­cause no one has ever done this be­fore,” he added.

Koch is an Oahu na­tive who com­pleted his un­der­grad­u­ate stud­ies in en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ence and ge­og­ra­phy in 2008 at UH-Hilo. He later earned a mas­ter’s in bi­ol­ogy and a doc­tor­ate in ecol­ogy from Utah State Univer­sity.

He re­turned to UH-Hilo in 2016 as a Na­tional Sci­ence Foun­da­tion post­doc­toral re­search fel­low in the Trop­i­cal Con­ser­va­tion Bi­ol­ogy and En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence pro­gram, spe­cial­iz­ing in the study of in­va­sion ge­nomics. He’s cur­rently an ad­junct fac­ulty mem­ber and post­doc­toral fel­low in the TCBES pro­gram, study­ing the evo­lu­tion­ary mech­a­nisms that en­able in­va­sive species to adapt to the mo­saic of ecosys­tems found in Hawaii, ac­cord­ing to the re­lease.

“UH-Hilo is sit­u­ated in a liv­ing lab­o­ra­tory,” Koch said. “We’ve got this is­land that’s re­ally dy­namic. Things are con­stantly chang­ing and a lot of the bees I’m study­ing live right on this is­land. So, there’s much to dis­cover here.”

Photo cour­tesy of KARL MAGNACCA

An en­dan­gered yel­low-faced bee, or Hy­laeus an­thrac­i­nus, on ‘il­ima in South Kona. This bee is the study species of Jonathan Koch’s re­cent fel­low­ship grant.


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