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Biology Major Follows Bumblebees Up Colorado Mountains

Published: September 02, 2014
Aside from the fantastic mountain sunrises and night hikes lit by the super moon, Leah Joyce has gained academic experience beyond her expectations.
Aside from the fantastic mountain sunrises and night hikes lit by the super moon, Leah Joyce has gained academic experience beyond her expectations.
Joyce spent the summer collecting data for a bumblebee census throughout different elevations in the mountains.
Joyce spent the summer collecting data for a bumblebee census throughout different elevations in the mountains.

Leah Joyce ’15 spent this summer in Colorado living in a 1934 rustic miner’s cabin, without even running water. She was interning at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab studying bumblebee behavior and collecting data for a bumblebee census throughout different elevations in the mountains.

And she loved every minute of it.

“I climbed from the valley to the peak of four different mountains to catch bees at different elevations. It's very physically challenging, but the reward from the view at the top is amazing,” said Joyce, a marine science-biology major. “Everyone at the lab loved nature and the outdoors, so we often went on backpacking and camping trips all around the area and to Aspen, which is only about an 18-mile hike away.”

Aside from the fantastic mountain sunrises and night hikes lit by the super moon, Joyce has gained academic experience beyond her expectations. She said students come for 10 weeks to the lab (which is known for pollination ecology and climate change research) to work with ecologists from around the world on their research projects as well as the students’ independent projects. Joyce worked with James Thomson, a pollination ecologist from the University of Toronto, on the census to help determine if bumblebee species are moving up in altitude because of climate change.

When the team would catch a bee, they’d identify the species, take a photo, mark its thorax to prevent recapture, then return to the lab to enter data into a computer program for later analyzing. Joyce’s independent research project focused on bumblebee size and temperature on foraging activity.

“You can read a book and listen to a lecture about a research project, but you can't really understand what research is until you spend hours in the field collecting data then an equal amount of time entering the data into a program and analyzing it,” said Joyce of Lebanon, OH. “Not only have I learned valuable field techniques here that I may be able to use for future jobs, but I also learned how to work with a team of researchers and how to ask and test questions.”

An unexpected lesson came from within Joyce who said that living without luxuries like televisions, air conditioning and reliable Wi-Fi taught her she doesn’t need many material things to be happy.

“After not wearing makeup and being around people my age who appreciate me for ‘me’ and not my latest Facebook post or trendy outfit, I've learned to seek beauty in the natural sense and love myself for who I really am,” she said. “I've also learned to push myself when something is physically or mentally hard because, just like climbing a mountain, the view at the top is worth all the work it took to get there”

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