It's the work of Washington State University's Honey Bee Research Program, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences (WSU CAHNRS), and accessible free online on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/380776410.
The 28-minute video, two years in the making, is aimed at helping beekeepers improve their stock and overcome some of the obstacles they may face in their breeding efforts.
The UC Davis connection is strong. The video chronicles the work of "the father of honey bee genetics," Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., of the University of California, Davis, for whom the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis, is named. The husband-wife scientific team, Susan Cobey and Timothy Lawrence, both formerly of UC Davis and now of WSU, are executive producers and are featured in the video, as is noted bee scientist Steve Sheppard, director of the WSU Center for Reproductive Biology and former chair of the WSU Department of Entomology. The trio, also the authors, describe the Page-Laidlaw Population Breeding Program, one of the most successful bee breeding program and named for Laidlaw and Robert E. Page Jr., now a distinguished emeritus professor at UC Davis and emeritus provost, Arizona State University.
The video is "a guideline, that bees respond to selection but they need to be aware of some of the pitfalls that can hamper progress," said Lawrence, county director of WSU Extension for Island County. He's been working with bees since 1963 and landed his first commercial beekeeping job in 1969.
Sheppard says in the introductory remarks: "Honey bees are fascinating animals to work with and essential to pollination of our food supply. Currently faced with many challenges, one of our most important tools for long-term sustainability and improved honey bee health is a program of selection for stock that is hearty, productive, winters well, and has a reduced susceptibility to pests and pathogens."
Sheppard, Cobey and Lawrence know their bees. Between them, their bee experience encompasses some 150 years. Cobey, a bee breeder-geneticist who began working with bees in 1976, studied with Laidlaw, and later managed the Laidlaw facility. She is recognized as a global expert on instrumental insemination. Sheppard, who specializes in genetics and evolution of honey bees, and insect introductions and mechanisms of genetic differentiation, began working with bees while a graduate student at the University of Georgia.
In the video, Sheppard points out that "beekeepers recognize the need for more rigorous programs to select, improve and maintain their breeding stocks. The varroa mite and the movement of Africanized honey bees adds to this urgency. The principles discussed here serve as a guide to develop and establish a successful and practical breeding program with a focus on the traits you choose to enhance is your breeding population."
- Maintain a diverse population to provide the basis for selection
- A proficiency in queen and drone rearing
- Establish a selection index of desired traits
- Careful record-keeping
- Control of pests and diseases, and
- A method of controlled mating.
"The honey bee colony is a superorganism and this complicates the selection process," says Cobey, who breeds Carniolan bees. "Keeping your breeding program simple is key. Genetic diversity within the colony as well as within the population increases honey bee fitness. Several mechanisms contribute to this diversity:
- The high mating frequency of the queen.
- Semen storage--after mating only about 10 percent of the semen collected migrates to the spermatheca, although this represents each drone she has mated with."
- The high rate of recombination. a queen can mate with up to 60 drones, though typically mates with 15 to 20 drones. This mating behavior seems risky and inefficient, though is very successful in creating a genetically diverse superorganism, the colony."
"The many subfamilies of worker bees represented by the different drones mated, subfamilies specialize in different traits," Cobey says, "which together contribute to colony fitness."
She relates that "beekeepers and bee researchers have been selecting the honey bee for many years--some of the earliest attempts included attempting to mate bees in a confined enclosure or by hand .discoveries in the queens anatomy and physiology led to the first break through in controlled mating of honey bees with instrumental insemination.we owe a lot to some of the early pioneers in bee breeding like Laidlaw, (Lloyd) Watson, (Otto) Mackensen, (William) Roberts and many others."
Page-Laidlaw Closed Population Breeding Program
Noting that the Page-Laidlaw Closed Population Breeding Program "is one of the most successful practical breeding systems used, Cobey explains "the system basically is how most beekeepers approach selection--choose the best and propagate from these. The key component is an annual selection program supported with controlled mating and record keeping. Beekeepers rely on natural selection pressure to increase desirable traits in the population. The goal of the closed population breeding program is to increase the selection pressure and the frequency of desirable traits in the breeding population. Given the behavioral complexity of honey bees, this can be a challenging process. To be successful and give the program, longevity, it must be simple and repeatable."
The video drew nearly 1,000 views the first week. The first comment: "Great video! ....where can i buy that bee hat that Susan is wearing? Thanks so much!"
Cobey does have some nice hats!
As you know, Shapiro sponsors the annual Cabbage White Butterfly Contest--the first person who collects the first cabbage white of the year from the three-county area of Sacramento, Solano and Yolo wins a pitcher of beer. It's a research project he's been working on since 1972 to determine the first flight of Pieris rapae. He's usually the winner because he knows where to look.
His email began suspenseful. Did he find it? Did he find it?
"The fog lifted to low stratus overcast, which very slowly broke up into stratocumulus, with a very light north wind aloft--it was calm at the surface," he wrote. "I had thought today might be a day to look for the first rapae, but by 11.30 a.m, the sun was still not visible and it was 53F in Davis. So I went to lunch."
"While I ate the sun broke through. When I went outside at 12.05 it was up to 57F and some blue sky was showing. I made a snap decision to go to West Sacramento even though there was no time to go get a net. I told myself that what I really needed was the first-flight date. Catching the bug was just for the contest. I would trust my own sight record! So off I went. I was in West Sacramento from 1 to 3 at the warmest part of the day. I had about 70% sunshine. The high was 63F but it was so humid that it actually felt warmer with the sun out. It was still dead calm. The vegetation is progressing now."
His email STILL kept us in suspense. Did he find it? Did he find it?
"The number of blooming Raphanus has doubled; there are thousands of Raphanus and Brassica nigra plants in vegetative condition; four Melilotus alba have come into bloom. One Avena is blooming--just one. The Conium rosettes are immense--as big as last year--and as is its allelopathic wont, its areal coverage has expanded greatly. I am very attentive to dorsal-basking rapae in the vegetation and looked constantly for them; no dice."
Did he find it? Did he find it?
"But it felt so like a rapae day... And then at 1.21 p.m. a butterfly flew by and nectared at Raphanus. It was a fresh (of course!) female Pyrgus communis--as it turned out, the only Lep (Lepidoptera) of the day. OK, now get this: in the entire project, i.e. since 1972, communis has never been recorded earlier than rapae in the Valley. But that's just for starters. Communis has never been recorded in January before, either. The earliest is ii.1.14, which happens to have been in West Sac; so today beat it by 10 days. Communis has been recorded in February at West Sacramento only 8 times--the usual first-flight date is in March!-and those were ii.16.01,ii.23.07,ii.17.12,ii.1.14,ii.12.15,ii.22.16 and ii.22.17. That is, of the 8 February records, 6 were during or adjacent to the drought. 2018 and 19 returned to the classic March start. Pyrgus scriptura almost always starts first, occasionally on the same day.
Did he find it? Did he find it?
"Not this year! Rapae still awaits. But this communis craziness is better than a beer! What next?"
What's next is the contest is still open. Beer for a butterfly. Suds for a bug. (For the rules, see the Bug Squad blog)
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation reported this week that its Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count shows a decline for the second consecutive year. “Sadly, fewer than 30,000 monarchs were counted—29,418 to be exact—for the second year in a row, so the western monarch population remains at a critical level,” according to Matthew Shepherd, director of communications and outreach. (See Xerces press release and blog about the population count for this winter.)
Researcher Elizabeth Crone, a professor at Tufts University, Medford, Ma., will shed some light on the issue when she delivers a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar on "Why Are the Monarch Butterflies Declining in the West?" from 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 29 in 122 Briggs Hall, off Kleiber Hall Drive, UC Davis campus. Her longtime collaborator, pollination ecologist and professor Neal Williams, will introduce her.
"Ecologists now face the dual challenge of documenting changes in the environment, and figuring out appropriate strategies for conserving and recovering natural resources in changing environments," says Crone, who is completing a research sabbatical at UC Davis. In her talk, she will focus on “using the tools of population ecology to address both sides of this challenge: quantifying changes in the abundance of western monarch butterflies (and factors associated with these changes), and using theory and data to design strategies and targets for restoration and recovery.”
“Analyses of past dynamics (1980-2017) showed that western monarch butterflies have declined more quickly than their eastern counterparts, and that these declines were most strongly associated with loss of overwintering habitat, and more weakly (but significantly) associated with increased pesticide use and warmer breeding season temperatures,” Crone writes in her abstract. “Analyses of current conditions (2018-2019) suggest that a recent dramatic drop in abundance occurred in spring, between when monarch butterflies leave coastal overwintering sites and arrive in the Central Valley and Sierra Foothills.”
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation reported this week that its Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count shows a decline for the second consecutive year. “Sadly, fewer than 30,000 monarchs were counted—29,418 to be exact—for the second year in a row, so the western monarch population remains at a critical level,” according to Matthew Shepherd, director of communications and outreach. (See press release and a blog article about the population count for this winter.)
A native of Alexandria, Va., Crone received her bachelor's degree in biology, summa cum laude, from the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va., in 1991, and her doctorate in botany from Duke University in 1995. She served as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington, Seattle, from 1996-1997. Her career encompasses academic appointments at Harvard University, University of Montana, and the University of Calgary.
No stranger to UC Davis, Crone has collaborated with Neal Williams "on and off" for the past 20 years. “We had a National Science Foundation grant to study bumble bee populations from 2014-2019, so I have been visiting regularly since he got here. Starting in winter 2019, I have also had funding to take partial research leave from Tufts and work on western monarchs. I have been about half-time at Tufts and half-time at UC Davis." "I am grateful to Neal and the Entomology Department for hosting me during this extended stay!" she added.
Crone is a co-principal investigator (PI) with PI Cheryl Schultz, associate professor of biological sciences at Washington State University and co-PI Sarina Jepson, endangered species program director, Xerces Society, on a federal grant, "Western Monarch Breeding Phenology" (awarded May 2017-June 2020, with the potential for annual renewal). The grant was funded through the Department of Defense's (DoD) Natural Resources Program, DoD Legacy Program.
Of her research, Crone says "My research focuses on population ecology, especially of plants and insects, and plant-animal interactions. Specifically, I am interested in how environmental changes translate to changes in population dynamics: For example, is there a simple, linear matching of changes in resources to abundance of consumers, or do interactions among individuals and species moderate these responses? Much of my research also involves developing novel quantitative approaches to predict long-term dynamics from small scale observations and experiments. Current projects include studies of butterflies, bees, perennial wildflowers, sugar maples, and acorn-granivore interactions. Past projects include some of the best documented examples of cyclical dynamics in plant populations and spatial metapopulation dynamics in animal populations. I was also one of the first ecologists to adapt generalized linear mixed models to estimate variance terms for stochastic population models."
Her honors and awards are many and varied:
- Project of the Year Award, SERDP (Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program) 2018
- Foreign Member, Finnish Academy of Science and Letters (elected 2017)
- Vice Chair / Chair, Theoretical Ecology Section, Ecological Society of America, 2010-2012
- Ecological Research Award, Ecological Society of Japan, 2014
- Fulbright Fellowship, 2007-2008
- National Science Foundation (NSF) Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biosciences Related to the Environment (1996-1997)
- U.S. Department of Energy Graduate Fellowship for Global Change (1991-1995)
- Baldwin Speece Award (College of William and Mary, for scholarship/service in ecology, 1991)
How did you get interested in science? Was there an "ah ha" moment?
I was in an REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program studying plant-insect interactions in 1990. The thing that made me want to go to grad school was the fun puzzle of designing an experiment AND figuring out how to interpret the data - I had collected data on beetle feeding rates, and when I didn't know how to analyze them my advisor said "read a statistics book" ... so I did--since then I have always especially loved the puzzle of matching models to data.
From an earlier age, I have always enjoyed being outdoors, which is probably why I chose to study biology. But that was the moment when I knew I would enjoy a life of research.
Some of your major accomplishments?
From an applied ecology perspective, the biggest is helping the Fender's blue butterfly move from being listed as endangered to nearly ready for down-listing. From a basic ecology perspective, I figured out the ecological interpretation of variance terms in mixed models as estimates of spatial heterogeneity and environmental stochasticity, and worked out one of the best examples of how mast-seeding species are synchronized by their pollinators.
What fascinates you about monarchs?
The possibility that we can recover the western monarch population from its recent steep decline to being abundant again. This should be a problem we can fix.
What do you like best about science?
The puzzle of matching models to data and the possibility of saving species from extinction.
Any scientists in the family?
My sister is an astronomer. My dad was a math professor. Before him, though, no one in the extended family had even gone to college.
What do you do in your leisure time?
I once gut-renovated a house (with help from carpenters, but doing some of the work myself), I am very proud of my urban pollinator garden in Somerville (near Boston, Mass., and I am a good enough trombonist to (just barely) keep up with my trombonist friends.
I am waiting to find out whether our monarch funding will be extended or whether I will go back to a regular teaching schedule at Tufts. Even if I go back to "full-time" teaching, I am sure I will be doing western monarch and bumble bee research for the indefinite future, and will continue to be at least partly bicoastal.
(Editor's Note: the Xerces Society's site-by-site monarch count data is available at https://www.westernmonarchcount.org/data/. This covers all years since the first count in 1997.)
Those who painted rocks at the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on Saturday, Jan. 18 were not just rock artists. They were rock stars, painting creative, inspirational and seasonal illustrations.
A sign on the table, staffed by entomologist Ann Kao of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (2019 alumnus of UC Davis), urged: "Paint a Rock!" The directions:
- Please choose a rock
- Be creative, you can write a kind message on it
- You may keep it or hide it somewhere outside
And that they did. They selected a smooth river rock and made it their own. They painted everything from butterflies, ants, and spiders to rainbows, smiles and the sun. Indeed, some of the critters looked like new species of arthropods just waiting to be named.
The artists hid some of the rocks on the UC Davis campus. They are likely to wind up on the Facebook page, UC Davis Rocks, which encourages folks to paint rocks, hide them, and then post the images. The Bohart rocks will join other images on the Facebook page, including such resident rocks as "When All Else Fails, Hug the Dog" to "Take the Next Step" to "You Are Loved."
One talented rock artist at the Bohart Museum chose a Valentine's Day theme, painting two "Love Bugs”--a honey bee and a ladybug. The colorful rock now resides in the office of director Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis. It's right next to her microscope where she will 'scope the real Apis mellifera and Coccinellidae species and other insects.
If you look on the Internet, you'll find some creative, inspirational and downright humorous rocks:
- "Life Is Short; Eat the Cupcake"
- "A Laugh Is a Smile that Bursts"
- "Papa Was a Rolling Stone"
- "Be a Rainbow in Someone Else's Cloud"
- And this two-sided rock: On one side, a simple three-word request, "Turn Me Over," and on the other side, a 10-word admonishment: "You Just Took Orders from a Rock. Are You Stoned?"
Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator, coordinated the open house, which showcased the research of six doctoral students: Charlotte Herbert Alberts, Yao Cai, Alexander Dedmon, Zachary Griebenow, Crystal Homicz and Ann Holmes. (See Bug Squad blog).
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane and founded by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens; a live "petting zoo" that includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas; and a gift shop stocked with books, insect-themed t-shirts and sweatshirts, jewelry, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy. The insect museum is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., except on holidays. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or email@example.com.
Hmmm....did we say the "Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million insects specimens?" Correct that! Make that "a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens and one local Love Bug rock."
She donned her special outfit, a blue butterfly cape, and headed over to the open house at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis, to “see the blue butterflies.”
The event, held Saturday afternoon, Jan. 18, primarily featured the research of six doctoral students: Charlotte Herbert Alberts, Yao Cai, Alexander Dedmon, Zachary Griebenow, Crystal Homicz and Ann Holmes. (See Bug Squad blog)
But it was also a time to view the butterflies and moths in the Lepidoptera collection, curated by entomologist Jeff Smith. He and fellow Bohart associate Greg Kareofelas spent three hours discussing the amazing world of butterflies and answering questions about the Lepidoptera collection, which totals nearly 500,000 specimens.
Tien loved seeing the bright blue morpho butterflies. She gleefully spread her wings and smiled delightedly.
Then Brownie Girl Scout Troop 5520 of West Sacramento toured the insect museum. They came prepared. Prior to the tour, they met in the lobby of the Academic Surge building to discuss and share their newly created posters about insects. Lauren Wells, 7, of West Sacramento chose the praying mantis.
Lauren and fellow Brownie Girl Scout member Madeline Louis, 8, of West Sacramento, marveled at the worldwide collection of butterfly specimens and listened eagerly as Kareofelas discussed the tropical ones.
“Our troop, including all of the parents raved about how much fun they had at the Bohart,” said parent Lisa Wells of UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "I think everyone was really surprised by how much fun they had and learned. Great place! In fact, a few parents claimed that it was our best troop outing ever in over 3 years.”
Other visitors drawn to the Lep section included Savanna Miller, 7, and her sister, Olivia, 4, of Vacaville. Their grandmother, retired teacher Genny Miller, accompanied them.
Little Olivia gazed at the first opened drawer and pronounced: “They're dead! They're all dead!”
The scientists assured her that yes, they are; that the butterflies are specimens; and that the Bohart Museum houses nearly eight million specimens for educational and scientific purposes (research). The specimens include the iconic monarch (Danaus plexippus); the lookalike viceroy (Limenitis archippus); the California state insect, the dogface butterfly (Zerene eurydice) and the extinct Xerces blue (Glaucopsyche xerces).
When the scientists explained how butterflies fly, Savanna and Olivia listened raptly. They then correctly imitated the flight of a butterfly as bystanders smiled approvingly. "That's how they fly! Well done!"
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, is directed by professor Lynn Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Founded by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), it not only houses nearly eight million insect specimens but a live "petting zoo" that includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas. Its year-around gift shop is stocked with books, insect-themed t-shirts and sweatshirts, jewelry, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., except on holidays. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, Bohart Museum officials are gearing up for the ninth annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day, set Saturday, Feb. 15. Featuring 13 museums or collections, the science-based event offers an opportunity for visitors of all ages to meet and talk with UC Davis scientists—from undergraduates to staff to emeriti professors. It is free and family friendly.
Participants in the Feb. 15th Biodiversity Museum Day:
- Arboretum and Public Garden
- Bohart Museum of Entomology
- Botanical Conservatory
- California Raptor Center
- Center for Plant Diversity
- Department of Anthropology Museum
- Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven
- Marine Invertebrate Collection (not linked)
- Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology
- Nematode Collection
- Paleontology Collection
- Phaff Yeast Culture Collection
- Viticulture Enology Culture Collection
The 13 museums or collections represent nine departments, all within walking distance on campus except the Raptor Center on Old Davis Road and the bee garden on Bee Biology Road. The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will showcase three museums or collections: Bohart Museum of Entomology, the Honey Bee Haven, and the Nematode Collection.