- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
So when Yves Le Conte, director of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, Paris, toured the UC Davis campus prior to his keynote speech at the second annual Bee Symposium, "Bonjour" was not only a greeting, but a very good day.
He toured the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, and the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
Escorted by journalist/master beekeeper Mea McNeil of San Anselmo, he first enjoyed a luncheon catered by McNeil at the Laidlaw facility; toured the Bohart Museum, home of nearly eight million insect specimens; and then visited the honey bee garden, a half-acre bee garden located next to the Laidlaw facility on Bee Biology Road.
McNeil, who profiled him in a bee journal, described him as not only a rigorous scientist, but a warm, caring person. "It was his curiosity about mites that led him to make discoveries about bee pheromones that have substantially changed the understanding of bee behavior," she said. "A good deal of cross pollination took place as he met members of the UC Davis entomology community, and he relished a visit to the Bohart Museum."
Le Conte, known throughout Europe for his varroa mite research and the effects on honey bees, spoke on “Honey Bees That Survive Varroa Mite in the World: What We Can Learn from the French Bees.”
He related that the parasitic varroa mite, "a major pest for beekeepers," arrived in France in 1982, and that untreated colonies died after two or three years. Resistance of the honey bee to the mite is crucial for bees' survival, he said. He and fellow scientists are studying varroa-resistant bees. "We go to beekeepers and say 'Give me a piece of the wing of your queen--we want to study the DNA to select for (varroa) resistance," he said.
In addition to his groundbreaking work in Europe, Le Conte collaborated with bee scientist Gene Robinson at the University of Illinois to isolate the pheromone that helps regulate labor in the honey bee colony. Le Conte has also worked with Mark Winston, Marion Ellis and many others throughout the country. He is a member of the advisory board of the Bee Informed Partnership, which strives to help beekeepers keep healthy and stronger colonies.
The second annual Bee Symposium, held May 7 in the UC Davis Conference Center, and hosted by the Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Amina Harris, director of the center, and Neal Williams, associate professor in the department and a co-faculty director of the center, emceed the event.