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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program

Environmental Conservation

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Declines in several pollinator species are due to a variety of factors, including pathogens. Incorporating pollinator-friendly plant species into wild and agricultural habitats could reduce the stress of pathogens if food sources act medicinally against pathogens. Previous research demonstrated one domesticated sunflower cultivar (Helianthus annuus) can dramatically reduce a gut pathogen (Crithidia bombi) of the common eastern bumble bee, Bombus impatiens. To ascertain the breadth of this medicinal trait, we tested whether pollen from several H. annuus cultivars and four relatives could also reduce C. bombi infections in B. impatiens. We also investigated whether timing of exposure to sunflower pollen relative to time of infection affected the strength of this medicinal trait. In all experiments, bees were infected and then fed their respective pollen diets for a week before they were dissected to assess infection. In our first experiment, all pollen from Helianthus species and relatives reduced C. bombi cell counts compared to our single species control of buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum). In our timing of exposure experiments, a one-time exposure to sunflower pollen present at the time of infection did not lower infection levels. In longer exposure trials, sunflower pollen suppressed C. bombi infection with a strength inversely proportional to the time between treatment and infection. Our results suggest that medicinal pollen may be widespread in the Helianthus genus and potentially throughout the Asteraceae family. Thus, these results provide insights into how strategic plantings of certain floral resources can help mediate and influences pollinator disease dynamics.


First Advisor

Lynn S. Adler

Second Advisor

Kristina Stinson

Third Advisor

Anne Avrill