News and events

A solitary bee covered in pollen foraging on yellow gorse flowers

November 2023

PhD student Leah Salm has produced a new report based on a online survey of the experiences of community gardens in Brighton. You can download a copy of the report and a two-page summary

June 2023 

This month we welcome two new members to the team- Becca Gorham who will be with us for four months as a technician and Harry de Marco who is joining us as a JRA (Junior Research Assistant) until September. Welcome both!

April 2023

  • We are delighted to have been awarded a BBSRC standard research in collaboration with Dr James Gilbert at the University of Hull and Prof. Jeremy Niven at Sussex to study the response of wild bees to a changing diet and climate. Post-doc, PhD and technician recruitment coming soon! 
  • Leah published a new paper on a whole systems approach to obesity reduction in Brighton with her collaborators at IDS. Congratulations Leah! She also attended the Brighton & Hove Allotment Federation AGM this month to start spreading the word about her PhD research on alternative food networks
  • Beth co-led on another successfull Soapbox Science Brighton event, this year in collaboration with the British Neuroscience Association. Fourteen women presented their research to the public on the seafront, and despite the rainy conditions, lots of fun was had by all!

A group of people standing next to an information board in the sunshine

March 2023

Nov 2022

  • Huge congratulations to Dr. Janine Griffiths-Lee for successfully defending her PhD thesis this month!  
  • Beth gave a public talk about 'Bee-haviour to Save the Bees' as part of the Sussex Universe lecture series
  • Beth gave a talk as part of SSRP week about 'A citizen science approach to studying plant-pollinator interactions in urban agriculture'

Oct 2022

  • We have welcomed four postgraduate students to the lab this month. MSc student Ashu Tomar and MRes student Emily Millerchip will be working with Buglife on an ambitious project to increase insect biodiversity in English vineyards. MRes students Jenna Williams and Ella Kelby are starting an exciting new behavioural project quantifying the energetic costs involved in flower handling using flow through respirometry. 

Sept 2022

  • We're really pleased to welcome a new member of staff to the group this month, Dr Natacha Rossi. Natacha will be working on our UKRI FLF project, using behavioural assays to examine how floral differences affect pollen foraging in bees, and the implications for pollination. Welcome Natacha!
  • Sergio published a paper in Current Biology on work from his Masters at Sussex looking at passive forces in goal-directed limb movements in mantids. Congratulations Sergio! Sergio is now supervising two undergraduate students who have joined the lab this term, Jack Walker and Antalya Mustafa, who will perform similar experiments, looking at passive forces in bee legs. Welcome Jack and Antalya! 
  • Janine published the fourth paper from her PhD, demonstrating that wildflower planting can increase beneficial insect abundance and diversity in English vineyards. We're really excited to be continuing this work on wildflowers in vineyards in collaboration with the conservation charity Buglife, as part of the Changing Chalk project.


A photo of a vineyard


August 2022

  • Janine published the third paper from her PhD, a survey of UK vineyard owners and their management practices entitled Grape Expectations: A Survey of British Vineyard Land Management Practices From An Environmental Perspective. 

June 2022

  • Beth was delighted to be awarded the 2022 Kroto Award for Public Engagement in Life Sciences. You can watch her acceptance speech below. 

May 2022

April 2022

  • Beth gave a talk on Narrative CVs as part of the University wide Research with Impact forum. Watch again here

March 2022

  • We have two new members joining the lab this month. Gilles Verbinnen is an Erasmus student visiting from KU Leuven in Belgium. He will be continuing our C B Dennis funded work on developmental changes in honeybee metabolic rate. Leah Salm is a PhD student in the new Food Systems Centre for Doctoral Training and will be joining us for a four month placement at the end of the month. Leah will be continuing our work on the value and productivity of urban food growing, with a focus on community orchards. Welcome Gilles and Leah!
  • Janine published the second paper from her PhD showing that creating a "mini-meadow" of just 2 x 2 metres in your garden or allotment can increase pollinator abundance and diversity.
  • Beth published a perspective piece in Science outlining how foraging behaviour of bees is being influenced by human activity. 
  • Beth was invited by the charity Sustain to give a talk about her research on the importance of agroecology in urban farming as part of the launch of Good to Grow. 

Jan 2022

  • We are delighted to welcome our very first PhD student, Sam Butler to the lab this month. Sam worked on ants for his Masters research at the University of Gloucester, and will be working alongisde Sergio to understand how bees perceive and evaluate pollen rewards when foraging at the flower. Welcome Sam!

Dec 2021

  • Beth attended the Ecology Across Borders conference in Liverpool on 15th December to present work on urban agriculture, funded by the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme. The results on the productivity of urban farming and importance of insect pollinators was featured in the Guardian, Times, Telegraph and Independent newspapers as well as several smaller horticultural publications, and Beth was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 The World at One and BBC Radio Kent about the project. We also got a mention on Radio 4's Today programme and BBC Radio 2. Fantastic to see such interest in the potential of urban growing!
  • We received ~£16k of funding from the NERC Discipline Hopping for Environmental Solutions fund to develop a mulit-disciplinary collaboration with chemists at Sussex to develop analytical techniques that will permit us to analyse the nutritional content of insect diets and floral food rewards. We'll be working with Ramon Gonzalez-Mendez and Murat Evaci in Chemistry and the funding will provide training for Beth, her PDRA Sergio and PhD students James Woodward and Andrés Romero Bravo. 

Oct 2021

  • We currently have a fully funded PhD position (January 2022 start) to study the factors driving flower choices in pollen foraging bees using a combination of behavioural assays and physiological measurements (e.g. flow through respirometry). More details on the position and how to apply hereDeadline 1st December 2021.
  • We are pleased to welcome MSci students Becca Morgan and Katie Berry to the lab. They will be collaborating with myself, Dr. Maria Clara Castellanos and Dr Ola Ollson at Lund University, adding UK plant species to an existing pollen database which uses deep learning to identify pollen grains. 
  • Beth is excited to have joined the editorial team at the Journal of Pollination Ecology
  • Beth was part of the team delivering taster sessions for potential PhD students as part of the UK Food Systems Centre for Doctoral Training roadshow. It was a pleasure to meet the first cohort of talented and diverse students, and we hope to welcome some of them to the lab soon. 
  • Beth was invited by Dr Michelle Fountain to speak about her research at NIAB EMR- she is looking forward to pursuing potential collaboration opportunities with horticultural researchers at NIAB in the future. 

Sept 2021

  • Beth attended a fantastic conference on the 'Natural processes influencing pollinator health" organised by Kew. Her collaborator Natalie Hempel de Ibarra presented an opinion paper co-authored alongside former Sussex university colleague Cristina Botías and Sean Rands from Bristol university on the behavioural adaptions bees have to reduce the risk of pathogen transmission at flowers. The paper is currently under review and will be published in an upcoming special issue in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B early next year. 
  • We're very pleased to welcome research assistant Milly Manley to the lab. A former masters student at Sussex, Milly will be continuing our C B Dennis Trust funded work examining developmental changes in the metabolic rate of newly emerged honeybees. Welcome to the group Milly!

August 2021

  • Beth (and her dog Phyllis!) recorded an episode of the Unlocking Landscapes podcast, during which we discussed what inspired Beth to become a "bee doctor", the hairiness of bees (but not wasps), why wasps are important, how bee-washing is employed by the corporate world and the need to change how pesticides are used in the UK. Tune in here or listen on Spotify

July 2021

  • A very warm welcome to Dr Sergio Rossoni who has joined the lab this month as a research fellow in insect electro-physiology. Sergio will be working on the UKRI FLF funded project 'Flower rewards and pollen foraging', examining the capacity for bees to use taste to detect nutritional compounds in pollen to guide their foraging choices. 
  • Our paper on the impact of larval nutrition on the scaling of metabolic rate with body size in adult honeybees is now published in the Journal of Experimental Biology

June 2021

  • Beth was interviewed for ITV News Meridian about Buglife and Arla Foods new Bee Roads scheme which aims to encourage people to create an inter-connected highway of resources for pollinators in their gardens. 
  • Beth was interviewed by wildlife presenter and writer Sophie Pavelle about the bilberry bumblebee (Bombus moniticola) for her new book 'Forget-me-Not' due out next year. 

May 2021

  • Beth was one of three panel members at the University of Sussex Research with Impact forum, focussed on sustainability research at Sussex. 
  • In a live Zoom session, Beth answered many burning bee questions from students at Nant y Bryniau Education Centre in North Wales as part of their Bee Week. 
  • Masters student Charlie Gibbs began field work for his thesis. Fifteen bumblebee colonies have been placed along a urban-rural transect from Brighton city centre to the downs, and Charlie will be measuring colony growth rate and the diversity of pollen diets throughout the summer. 
  • Beth was interviewed by Womanthology about her research and her role as the leader of Soapbox Science Brighton, an event designed to raise the profile of women in STEMM. Usually held on the seafront in Brighton, this year Soapbox Brighton is going online, in partnership with the Access Programme led by the Widening Participation team. 

April 2021

  • Beth spoke to stakeholders at the South Coast Sustainability event, led by SSRP, about why understanding bee behaviour is beneficial for improving crop yields. 

Feb 2021

We have a new preprint showing that the nutritional content of larval diets affects the scaling of metabolic rate with body mass in newly emerged honeybees. To our knowledge this is the first demonstration of an effect of diet quality on adult metabolism in a holometabolous insect. This is the first paper from our C B Dennis funded collaboration with the Niven lab on the effects of larval nutrition on development, survival and adult metabolism in honeybees. Research assistant Marta Rossi did a fantastic job of establishing the method for rearing honeybees in vitro at Sussex, and we are excited to utilise this method more in future.

Several images showing the development of a honeybee from small larva to adult

Nov 2020

  • Beth gave a talk to the EBE seminar series about her work as a community outreach officer for the Heathlands Reunited project, during her 18 month break from academia during 2019-20 when she was working for the South Downs National Park Authority.
  • Beth attended her first ever virtual conference SCAPE 2020 which this year was hosted by Jeff Ollerton of Northampton University. There were some excellent talks on pollination and pollinator behaviour, including a fascinating talk on plant ‘behaviour’ by Prof. Scott Armbruster. Despite the virtual setting it was possible to network with other researchers rather effectively, and Beth felt very inspired by the end of the conference, despite not leaving her living room.

Oct 2020- The Nicholls lab officially started!

May 2020

  • Janine published the first paper from her PhD on the benefits of companion planting on strawberry yields in allotments and gardens. This project arose from a question posed by Team PollinATE volunteers, as to whether having lots of bee friendly plants in your garden would ‘distract’ pollinators from visiting potentially less attractive crop flowers. We were pleased to be able to report back that in fact planting bee friendly borage leads to both more and bigger strawberries!

Dr Beth Nicholls hosting a workshop for allotment holders

March 2020