Beneficial Insects

McKenzi Sexton ’18 Discovers More than 2,000 Insect Pollinators Near Campus

Beneficial Insects

Bee stings, beetles, sunburn and rainy weather—Gardner-Webb University senior McKenzi Sexton, of Hickory, N.C., encountered them all in her research of insect pollinators. Her experience, though, was an introduction to her prospective career. A biology major, Sexton wants to work in the field of conservation genetics, where genetic methods are used to prevent extinction of endangered species.

“This project was an amazing opportunity and will definitely help me in future endeavors,” Sexton shared. “An opportunity like this allows you to use what you’ve been taught in a way that’s exciting to you.”

She was one of 13 students who received grants from the GWU Undergraduate Research Scholars program for the summer 2018 terms. Sexton will present her research in November at the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium in Raleigh, N.C.

“The goal of my project was to determine the local insect assemblage responsible for pollinating plants in three different habitat types in the Boiling Springs (N.C.) area,” Sexton described. “Determining the diversity and abundance of a community of pollinators is important to develop conservation strategies.”

Her mentor, Dr. Joseph Oyugi, professor of biology, helped her set up nets and gave her advice on field techniques. She went to 15 different study sites to record and photograph the pollinators. “Personally, I was surprised by the seemingly unconventional insect pollinators I found,” Sexton elaborated. “I did not expect certain plants to be frequented mostly by beetles, for example. I found and learned about the tumbling flower beetles, which launch themselves away and ‘tumble’ when presented with danger. I also found a couple of bizarre and beautiful moths, including the Hummingbird Clearwing, a moth that looks much more like a cross between a bumble bee and a hummingbird than a moth.”

Learn more about the Undergraduate Research Scholar Program