- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
DAVIS--“The Bee Team” at the University of California, Davis, has won a major award.
Five faculty members from the Department of Entomology received the coveted team award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA), for their collaborative work specializing in honey bees, wild bees and pollination issues through research, education and outreach. Their service to UC Davis spans 116 years.
The “Bee Team” is comprised of Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen; systematist/hymenopterist Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology who coordinated the development and installation of a landmark bee friendly garden; and native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology; pollination ecologist Neal Williams, assistant professor of entomology who specializes in pollination and bee biology; and biologist/apiculturist Brian Johnson, assistant professor of entomology who specializes in bee communication, bee behavior and bee health.
PBESA represents 11 states, seven U.S. territories, and parts of Canada and Mexico.
Thorp, who retired from the university in 1994, continues to work full-time on behalf of the bees, and has tallied 49 years of service to UC Davis. Mussen, who will retire in June of 2014, has provided 37 years of service; Kimsey, 24; Williams, 4 and Johnson, 2.
“The collaborative team exceptionally serves the university, the state, the nation, and indeed the world, in research, education and public service,” wrote nominator Michael Parrella, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. “The Bee Team is really the ‘A’ team; no other university in the country has this one-of-a-kind expertise about managed bees, wild bees, pollination, bee health, bee identification, and bee preservation. Honey bee health is especially crucial. Since 2006 when the colony collapse disorder surfaced, we as a nation have been losing one-third of our bees annually. Some beekeepers are reporting 50 to 100 percent winter losses. The importance of bees cannot be underestimated: one-third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees.”
Among those lending support to The Bee Team through letters were Mary Delany, interim chair of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; AnnMaria de Grassi, director of federal policy, California Farm Bureau Federation; Christi Heintz, executive director of Project Apis m. and the Almond Board of California Task Force Liaison; and Mace Vaughn, pollinator conservation program director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
About each team member:
Mussen, considered by his peers as one of the most respected and influential professional apiculturists in the nation, was named the California Beekeeper of the Year in 2006, won the American Association of Professional Apiculturists’ Award of Excellence in Extension Apiculture in 2007, and in 2008 he received the Distinguished Achievement Award in Extension from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America. He received the statewide Pedro Ilic Outstanding Agricultural Educator Award in 2010.
Mussen is a five-time president of the Western Apicultural Society, an organization he helped found in 1977. He's delivered the keynote addresses at the California State Beekeepers’ Association (CSBA) and at the American Honey Producers’ Association conventions. In addition, he provides leadership roles in the CSBA, the California Bee Breeders’ Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, American Honey Producers’ Association, National Honey Board, American Beekeeping Federation, American Association of Professional Apiculturists, and the Northern California Entomology Society, among others.
Mussen periodically speaks to some 20 beekeeping organizations a year, taking time from his busy schedule (often on the weekends and evenings) to travel to all parts of California and beyond. Mussen also coordinates the honey-tasting event at the annual UC Davis Picnic Day, where he encourages patrons to sample honey and ask questions.
“He is just as open to answering a question about Nosema to a beginning beekeeper or responding to a child’s question about queen bees as he is to helping a commercial beekeeper with 15,000 hives, or engaging in intricate scientific research,” colleague and entomology Extension specialist Larry Godfrey said.
Mussen, who is the UC Davis representative to the California State Apiary Board, offers input to the Department of Pesticide Regulation, particularly with the pesticide registration group. Lately he assisted U.S. beekeepers in writing letters to receive compensation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for their CCD (colony collapse disorder) bee losses.
Mussen works closely with Cooperation Extension, California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Department of Pesticide Regulation, the California Farm Bureau Federation, researchers in the UC system, researchers at the USDA/ARS honey bee laboratories at Beltsville, Md; Baton Rouge, La.; Tucson, Ariz., Weslaco, Texas, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, among others.
Mussen serves on various committees and task forces of state and national organizations, reviews numerous manuscripts for journals; reviews annual research proposals to the California State Beekeepers’ Association, the Almond Board of California, and the National Honey Board; reviews Small Business Innovation Research applications at the federal level; and is requested to comment on promotion evaluations for university and USDA researchers.
Said Gene Brandi, legislative chairman of the California State Beekeepers’ Association: “Dr. Mussen’s service as a member of the California State Beekeepers’ Association is legendary. Any time the industry has needed Eric’s expertise at a meeting, at an industry or government hearing, to compile industry data, to write an article for a variety of publications, or for any reason whatsoever, he has always been ready, willing and more than able to accomplish the task.”
Recently, Mussen and “Bee Team” member Brian Johnson conducted experiments to determine the effects of feeding bees on a blend of sucrose syrup and high fructose corn syrup. They studied the effects of feeding colonies high doses of antibiotics, simultaneously. They are sampling bees from apparently healthy and declining colonies to see if viruses may be to blame for the dwindling bee population. And they hope to look at the use of various essential oils to reduce virus loads in honey bee colony populations.
As the former interim chair of the Department of Entomology, Kimsey spearheaded the rebuilding of the bee biology program and keyed the establishment, installation and development of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road. A groundbreaking ceremony took place in 2009 and a grand celebration opening on Sept. 11, 2010. The garden also serves as a demonstration garden and a research garden. The key goals of the garden are to provide bees with a year-around food source, to raise public awareness about the plight of honey bees and to encourage visitors to plant bee-friendly gardens of their own.
Kimsey also fulfilled a major role in the rebuilding of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Biology lab. Those involved, as well as the beekeeping industry, praised her leadership, insight and determination. In this process, she reached out to industry leaders and gained their support.
In the development and establishment of the haven, Kimsey “motivated students, volunteers and donors to bring the garden to fruition, creating a demonstration to create an awareness of the diversity of pollinators and their role in the ecology of plants to benefit agriculture, urban landscapes and the enjoyment of the general public for generations to come,” said bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey.
Said Dora Sera Bailey, former director of consumer communications for Häagen-Dazs who worked with Kimsey: “The Häagen-Dazs brand is very proud and grateful for its long and strong relationship with UC Davis. It is a relationship that has come to full flower in the last several years, largely due to the vision, spirit of cooperation and commitment of Lynn Kimsey.”
- Under what contexts can native pollinators provide sufficient pollination for different crop? The answer to this question helps alleviate the stress placed on honey bees and also informs ways to more sustainably manage agricultural systems to promote biodiversity and production.
- How can we enhance habitat and diversify agricultural systems to promote managed and wild bees?
- Do pollinators interact in ways to increase the overall effectiveness of crop pollination?
This work has been carried out in agro-ecosystems in California’s Central Valley and in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A continuing goal is to provide practical information that can be used to improve the long-term stability of pollination for agriculture in California, as well as promote pollinator conservation and management. Williams’ work in the East and West has helped form the base for NCRS planting guidelines to enhance pollinators in agriculture. Williams is also studying how habitat restoration affects pollinator communities and pollination. He has ongoing research with Sacramento River Project (Nature Conservancy/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) to determine whether native pollinator species and the service they provide are restored along with the vegetation that is the target of restoration.
Williams was part of an international research team that found that honey bees are more effective at pollinating almonds when other species of bees are present. The groundbreaking research was published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. The research, which took place in California’s almond orchards in Yolo, Colusa and Stanislaus counties, is especially important because it increases the pollination effectiveness of honey bees as demand for their pollination service grows. When blue orchard bees and wild bees are foraging in almonds with honey bees, the behavior of honey bees changes, resulting in more effective crop pollination, they found.
“My research program spans a tremendous diversity of fundamental and applied areas in pollination and bee biology,” Williams says. “It is linked by a common goal to understand mechanisms from individual to landscape scales that affect pollinator communities, populations and pollination function. One major research area in our lab is working to identify native plant materials to support managed and wild bee species in order to bolster their health, their populations and achieve greater stability of pollination in agricultural landscapes.”
“Although other colleagues in our region investigate the importance of habitat for bees, we are unique in developing methods to identify best plants for bees and then applying these methods to select the plants. Our approach involves extensive field data, original computational modeling, and controlled experimental testing. An exciting extension of this work is testing the performance of the resulting native plant mixes in real landscape. To this end we are working with over 20 different growers and landowners around the state of California and a variety of different crop types from orchard to row crop. We have helped to determine best practice for planting bee habitat, protocols for monitoring pollinator use and developed widely methods for assessing pollinator’s contribution to pollination service. We recognize the value of simultaneously supporting managed bees, such as Apis mellifera and Osmia lignaria, as well as promoting populations of diverse wild bee species. Thus, our efforts target different suites of pollinators. It is through the integration of different species in different contexts that we can achieve greater sustainable pollination. In another project we are directly quantifying the importance of diverse pollinators to promote pollination. We have shown that the presence of wild species increases the pollination effectiveness of honey bees on almond. The result offers great promise for augmenting pollination of this challenging crop.”
“Training of students at all levels is key components of my program,” says Williams, who has 26 students working in his lab. “I integrate multiple undergraduates into my own projects and in addition host those working with graduate students in the lab. I am also actively engaged in outreach/extension education with growers, beekeepers, conservation organizations, county and state agencies and the public to promote biodiversity conservation and work to enhance pollination in natural and agricultural systems. We have led training sessions about native pollinators for NRCS and others in multiple seasons, hosted the most recent meeting of the Orchard Bee Association, contributed to farmer field days, provided master gardener sessions on native pollinators and developed outreach materials. Our latest project is developing a list of region specific native plants to support honey bees and wild pollinators, this effort involves collaboration with others on the Bee Team and beyond. “
Williams is an important part of the USDA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) meetings. He is co-project director of Aspire Project: Augmenting Specialty Crop Pollination Through Integrated Research and Education for Bees, a coordinated agricultural project funded by SCRI. Williams serves as the project leader for habitat enhancement for bees and as a co-leader of a project seeking alternative managed bees for almonds.
Last year he was one of the featured speakers at the International Symposium on Pollinator Conservation in Fukuoka, Japan. His talk on “Bee Life History and Resource Distributions Determine Population and Community Responses to Agricultural Landscape Change” explored agricultural landscape change and the role of bee life history in predicting and understanding responses of bee communities.
Thorp is skilled in insect classification, general entomology, natural history of insects, field entomology, California insect diversity and pollination ecology. He is a member of 10 professional societies including the International Society of Hymenopterists. He is the regional co-chair of the North America section of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Bumblebee Specialist Group. IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization.
Thorp is deeply engrossed in identifying bees for research projects, including that of UC Berkeley conservation biologist Claire Kremen, a McArthur Fellow studying wild bees. Overall, he has identified more than 170,000 bees since his retirement in 1994, usually averaging at least 10,000 a year. He is also heavily involved with research, education and public outreach activities at the Bohart Museum, with Department of Entomology and other entities.
Thorp does research at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. He has monitored the bee population since it was an open field. Over the last three years, Robbin has identified more than 80 species of bees—and counting--in the garden alone; these include bumble bees, carpenter bees and sweat bees.
An authority on Western bumble bees, Thorp delivered a talk on “Western North America Bumble Bees in Peril” to the Smithsonian in June 2009. His bumble bee research and his drive to save bees from extinction are two of his projects known nationally and internationally. He is the world authority on Franklin’s bumble bee, a bee feared extinct and known to habitat a small area in southern Oregon and northern California. He teamed with the Xerces Society to successfully fight a battle to include the bee on the threatened and endangered species list. He is now working to “save the bees” found in the Midwest and East Coast.
Thorp was honored for his work when he received the 2010-2011 Edward A. Dickson Emeriti Professorship, a high honor for UC Davis retired faculty. He delivers many talks, both scientific and for the lay audience, on wild bees and pollinator habitat. In addition to threatened or endangered bumble bees, his expertise includes vernal pool bees.
Johnson works closely with the California State Beekeepers Association (statewide, California has 500,000 colonies) and just received a CSBA grant to study “Testing Feeding Methods for Maximizing the Growth and Health of Honey Bee Colonies.” He is involved in graduate teaching/advising and undergraduate lab teaching. He is teaching a UC Davis graduate seminar on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and just completed teaching a course on honey bee communication for a freshman seminar. Johnson presented a talk on honey bee communication at the inaugural event of the UC Davis Honey and Pollinator Center; a lecture on “The Study of Social Insects” to the UC Davis Animal Behavior Core Graduate Group; a seminar at Howard University, Washington D.C. on the “Organization and Evolution of Honey Bee Societies”; and a talk on “Task Allocation in Middle-Age Honey Bees.” He also addressed the California Department of Food and Agriculture on “Roles of Self-Organization in Collective Decision Making” and discussed “Future Research Directions at UC Davis” at a CSBA meeting.