WTMC Science Teacher Joins Research Team with Earthwatch Institute

June 14, 2023 Washtenaw Technical Middle College

June, 2023

Michelle Vanhala, a high school science teacher at Washtenaw Technical Middle College, will be joining an Earthwatch research team for a 7-day expedition in Costa Rica to help scientists understand how climate change and habitat loss will impact native bee species and the ecosystem service of pollination.

From July 9th to 15th, Vanhala will be joining 9 other Earthwatch teacher volunteers from the United States for the “Conserving Wild Bees and Other Pollinators” project. The research team will be led by Dr. Valerie Peters of Eastern Kentucky University.

From the Earthwatch website: "More than three-quarters of the world’s crops depend on pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. These animals provide essential ecosystem services and play a crucial role in the production of many fruits and vegetables. But a changing climate, pesticide use, and habitat loss or degradation threaten pollinator communities, although the full impact of these threats is not well understood. For example, warming temperatures could force pollinator species to shift their ranges to higher elevations, which could impact agricultural production, or it could be that a changing climate will cause these species to disappear altogether.

One way to mitigate the effects of climate change is by planting “agroforests”—or forests that grow in pastures around or among crops—that could benefit pollinator communities. As part of this expedition, you will work with local communities to plant trees to create agroforests, which could not only help pollinator communities, but could provide livelihoods for low-income families in the region."

In the rugged tropical forests of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the Earthwatch fellows will be joining the research team to investigate how threats to bees and butterflies will affect the critical pollination services they provide.

“I am so excited to take part in real climate science data collection like a real scientist,” said Vanhala. “I can’t wait to integrate it all into my classroom and community.”

Earthwatch is an international environmental nonprofit whose mission is to engage people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment.