Dr Mel Orros
I've been interested in ecology and in particular British wildlife for as long as I can remember. I studied biology as an undergraduate and after a foray into scientific publishing I undertook an MSc in Ecology, Evolution & Conservation at Imperial College London's beautiful Silwood Park campus near Ascot. This led me to Reading for my PhD via a year as an ecological consultant during which I gained practical experience with many British species. My PhD covered various effects of garden bird feeding and the somewhat unexpected recent arrival of the reintroduced red kite (Milvus milvus) in Reading - our research indicates that over 300 kites are fed meat by householders in this highly urbanised area every day. It was during this time that I developed particular interests in how people and wildlife interact and in citizen science. Much of my bird feeding research was carried out in collaboration with local volunteers and I am involved in running two local wildlife groups. I also feel strongly that it is important to conduct research in the 'real world' in addition to scientific field stations where conditions may not match those experienced by many species elsewhere, particularly in urban areas. I will be continuing these themes in my new work on honey bees as my main research project will be taking place in the apiaries of local beekeepers.
The project launched in late September 2016 and will focus on what has become the key problem for many beekeepers around the world: the Varroa mite (Varroa destructor). It was first reported in England in the early 1990s and the Western European honey bee (Apis mellifera) lacks defences to it as it is not the mite's native host. Varroa mites have been shown to spread many harmful viruses to bees and are linked to widespread collapses of honey bee colonies worldwide. Various chemical treatments are available to control mite numbers to below economically damaging levels but resistance is now a problem in some areas. Some beekeepers have found that reducing the size of honey bee cells in hives from 'standard cells' of 5.4 mm width to 4.9-mm 'small cells' (suggested to be the 'natural' size of cells before modern beekeeping methods) has allowed them to control Varroa without chemicals. However, this practice remains controversial as many published scientific studies examining the use of 'small cells' have not found the same benefits.
The main purpose of my work will be to conduct a controlled experiment with volunteer local beekeepers. Each beekeeper will have three hives in the study, one with 'small cell' bees and no chemical Varroa treatment; one with 'standard cell' bees and no Varroa treatment; and one with 'standard cell' bees and Varroa treatment. We will compare Varroa infestation levels and other factors such as local pollen availability and bee morphology in these hives throughout the 2017 active season (roughly April to October). I am also setting up a research apiary in the university grounds where I will be able to conduct more detailed measurements.
Orros M.E., Fellowes M.D.E. (2015) Wild bird feeding in an urban area: intensity, economics and numbers of individuals supported. Acta Ornithologica 50: 43-58. doi: https://doi.org/10.3161/00016454AO2015.50.1.006
Orros M.E., Fellowes M.D.E. (2015) Widespread supplementary feeding in domestic gardens explains the return of reintroduced Red Kites Milvus milvus to an urban area. Ibis 157: 230-238. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/ibi.12237
Orros M.E., Thomas R.L., Holloway G.J., Fellowes M.D.E. (2015) Supplementary feeding of wild birds indirectly affects ground beetle populations in suburban gardens. Urban Ecosystems 18: 465-475. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-014-0404-x
Orros M.E., Fellowes M.D.E. (2014) Supplementary feeding of the reintroduced Red Kite (Milvus milvus) in UK gardens. Bird Study 61: 260−263. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/00063657.2014.885491
Orros, M. E. and Fellowes, M. D. E. (2012) Supplementary feeding of wild birds indirectly affects the local abundance of arthropod prey. Basic and Applied Ecology, 13 (3). pp. 286-293. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.baae.2012.03.001
Mathews F., Orros M., McLaren G., Gelling M., Foster R. (2005) Keeping fit on the ark: assessing the suitability of captive-bred animals for release. Biological Conservation 121: 569−577.