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Ella Pilacek

Oviedo High School
Oviedo, FL

Promoting Attraction of Apis mellifera to the Synthetic Scent of the Endangered Orchid Prosthechea cochleata Using Pavlovian Conditioning and Direct Feeding Paradigms for Conservation

Ella Pilacek researched ways to teach non-native honeybees how to pollinate an endangered native species of orchid. By mixing the compounds of the flower’s scent with a sugar solution that bees naturally love, Ella was successfully able to train the bees to be attracted to the scent, potentially making increased pollination and species survival more likely.

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Ella Pilacek, 17, of Winter Springs, researched Pavlovian conditioning of honeybees as a way of promoting pollination of the endangered native orchid Prosthechea cochleata for this Regeneron Science Talent Search animal sciences project. Seeking to address the problem of habitat fragmentation and a lack of native pollinators, Ella investigated how to train non-native honeybees (Apis mellifera) to pollinate the endangered orchid.

After testing each of the flower’s volatile organic compounds, Ella used them in a synthetic version of the orchid’s scent, mixed with sucrose as a food reward. After five rounds of conditioned feeding, the experimental group of bees were significantly more attracted to the orchid’s scent, showing the possibility of using synthetic scents to train non-native pollinators to help conserve endangered native plant species.

2024 Science Talent Search finalist Ella Pilacek

Ella, who is a mentor for fellow student researchers in STEM and a judge in local middle school science fairs, is in the Latin, French and biotechnology clubs at Oviedo High School, and founder of a group to help students succeed in science competitions. Ella, whose parents are Joshua Pilacek, Teresa Pilacek, and Sarah Peat, hopes to pursue a doctorate in biological sciences, studying animal behavior.

2024 Science Talent Search finalist Ella Pilacek

Beyond the Project

Ella enjoys French club because it results in gaining more experience with the French language and traditions and gaining a perspective on global Francophone cultures.

FUN FACTS: Ella enjoys “grandma hobbies” like collecting 1910s European postcards for their unique photography and quirks like French postcards that are printed on a distinctive green paper.

Illustration of 2024 STS finalist Ella Pilacek by Amy Wike