Researcher Spotlight – Mario Simon Pinilla-Gallego

2019-20 Global Change Fellow

PhD Student, Department of Applied Ecology
Advisor: Dr. Rebecca Irwin

Every year the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center funds a multi-disciplinary cohort of Global Change Fellows representing colleges across NC State University. Here are some highlights about 2019-20 Fellow, Simon Pinilla, and the applied research he’s conducting.

What do you study?
I study the transmission dynamics of Crithidia bombi, a bumble bee gut pathogen.

What (or who) influenced you to go into this field of study?
As human population grows, we will need to increase agricultural production. In the case of many fruits and vegetables, this can be achieved by increasing pollination in crops. But in order to do that, we need healthy pollinator populations. To be able to control the diseases that affect them, we need to understand the basic biology and epidemiology of the pathogens.

What results are you finding?
When considering the within-colony transmission of Crithidia bombi, the initial number of infected individuals matters because the greater the number of infected individuals that are present at the beginning of the colony cycle, the faster the pathogen will spread (no surprise). Between-colony transmission of the pathogen happens on flowers when an infected individual poops on a flower and a new individual comes in contact with the feces. But in this case, the morphology of the flower can affect the transmission of the pathogen.

Who will benefit from your research?
The bees will benefit most from this research, but in the long term, having strong pollinator populations will ensure food production, benefiting farmers and the general public.

How can your research be used to inform management decisions?
If we know which flower species decrease pathogen transmission, we can recommend flower mixes to be used in gardens and pollinator’s habitats. We can also advise companies that produce commercial bumble bee colonies so they can better control pathogens in their facilities, avoiding a spillover of pathogens to the wild populations.

What do you think is the most pressing issue related to global change?
Changes in legislation that allow implementation of policies that address climate change.

How do you expect the SE CASC Global Change Fellows Program to impact you and your work?
The main thing that I’m getting out of this program is the chance to interact with students and experts in disciplines different than my own, giving me the chance to explore new ideas and approaches to problems.

How would you describe your research to a 3rd grader?
I study how bee germs manage to pass from one bee hive to another.

What is your dream job?
Being a researcher at a University or research institution.

What has been the most rewarding part or your favorite part of being a SE CASC Global Change Fellow?
Getting to know my fellows and learn about the amazing, diverse research that they do.

What advice would you give to a student that is interested in getting involved in your field?
To think about it really well before getting into it.