So we're looking forward to a special seminar by Pennsylvania State University bee scientist Christina Grozinger on "Bee Health: from Genes to Landscapes” on Friday, March 6 at the University of California, Davis.
Grozinger, professor of entomology at Penn State and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, will present the seminar at 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs, off Kleiber Hall Drive. Her host is her former graduate student, Extension apiculturist Elina Niño, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Niño received her doctorate from Penn State.
"Populations of honey bees and other pollinators are in decline globally due to the effects of multiple biotic and abiotic stressors," Grozinger says in her abstract. "We have examined the impacts of several of these stressors (pathogens, parasites, and pesticides) on honey bee workers at the genomic level to determine if they perturb common or distinct pathways, and if these pathways are related to particular physiological functions or social behaviors. Parasitization with Nosema and chronic sublethal pesticide exposure both modulate expression of metabolic and nutrition-related pathways, suggesting that nutritional parameters can mitigate the impact of these stressors."
"Additional testing demonstrated that diet can significantly influence individual bees' sensitivity to pesticides," Grozinger continues. "Furthermore, we have demonstrated that the nutritional quality of floral resources is influenced by environmental conditions, and, in turn, influences foraging preferences of bees. Overall, our results demonstrate that the nutritional quality of floral resources is modulated by multiple factors, bees use nutritional cues while foraging, and high quality nutrition improves bees' resistance to stressors."
Grozinger received her bachelor's degree from McGill University in 1997, her master's degree from Harvard in 1990 and her doctorate from Harvard in 2001. Her areas of expertise include pollinators, honey bees, social insects, genomics, immunity, behavior and physiology. See her website for more about her lab research.
Grozinger's seminar will be video-recorded for later viewing on UCTV Seminars. Matthew Prebus, graduate student in the Phil Ward lab, will record the seminar.
A honey bee, that is.
Research entomologist Jay Evans of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (USDA/ARS) will discuss "What's It Like Inside a Bee? Genetic Approaches to Honey Bee Health" at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 4 in 122 Briggs Hall.
The Marin County Beekeepers will host the bee scientist.
"Honey bees are the preferred agricultural pollinators worldwide, and are important natural pollinators in Europe, Asia, and Africa," Evans says. "The European honey bee, Apis mellifera, is both aided and abused by humans, leading to a worldwide distribution on one side, and alarming regional die-offs on the other. Primary causes of honey bee colony death range from inadequate nutrition to stress from chemical exposure and maladies caused by a diverse set of parasites and pathogens."
"Often, domesticated honey bees face two or more stress agents simultaneously. Genetic approaches are being used to determine and mitigate the causes of bee declines. Genetics screens are available for each of the major biotic threats to bees, and screens have been used to determine risk levels for these threats in the field. Thanks to extensive analyses of the honey bee genome, tools are also available to screen bees for heritable traits that enable disease resistance, and to query the expressed genes of bees to infer responses to chemicals and biological stress. This talk will cover genetic insights into honey bee health, disease resistance and susceptibility to chemical insults."
Evans received his undergraduate degree in biology at Princeton and his doctorate in biology from the University of Utah. He did a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Georgia, where he became interested in honey bees. After a brief project on queen production at the University of Arizona, he joined the USDA/ARS as a research entomologist with the USDA-ARS Bee Research Laboratory, Beltsville, MD.
He is especially interested in insect immunity and in the abilities of social insects to evade their many parasites and pathogens. He focuses his projects on a range of bee pests including the American foulbrood bacterium, small hive beetles, nosema, viral pests and varroa mites.
Evans was an early proponent of the Honey Bee Genome Project and helped recruit and organize scientists interested in applied genomics for bees. He has improved and applied genetic screens for possible causes of colony collapse disorder and is now heading a consortium to sequence the genome of the Varroa mite in order to develop novel control methods for this key pest.
Plans call for recording the seminar for later posting on UCTV.
These are terrible blood-sucking parasites that attack bees and raise havoc in the hive. They transmit a variety of diseases and can destroy a hive.
In one of his many talks last year, Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology pointed out that honey bee mites include the (internal) tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi), first detected in the United States in 1984, and the (external) Varroa, first discovered here in 1987.
"The tracheal mite killed half of the nation's bees in five years as it expanded across the country," he said. "It was mostly ignored in the last few years."
Then when the Varroa mite arrived, "it killed half of the remaining colonies in five years as it expanded across the country. It killed practically all feral colonies in 1995-96."
"Mite feeding lowers pupal blood protein, resulting in underweight bees, and it shortens the lifespan," Mussen said. "Mite feeding suppresses the honey bee immune system. And, mite feeding vectors RNA virus diseases of honey bees."
Varroa mites, bee scientists agree, are definitely a key factor in the mysterious malady known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). They think CCD is caused not by "a single bullet" but by a multitude of factors, including diseases, pesticides, pests, parasites, malnutrition and stress.
Mussen defines CCD as "the failure of colonies to survive to the next season," and "there's an overwhelming quantity and quality of honey bee stresses."
With CCD, the adult bees abandon the hive, leaving behind the queen, brood and food stores.
So sad. Empty-hive stories, such as this one we heard today from a Davis beekeeper are troubling: "I went to check on my bees yesterday and found the hive empty. The wood was a little mildewy, I think they absconded because hive design needs work. I saw a couple dead yellowjackets in the hive, too, but I don't know if they attacked when there were still bees there or not."
Says Mussen: "Honey bees are stressed by many things. It begins with less naturally occurring food plants. The plants lack the mixed pollens essential for honey bee nutrition."
"It continues with loss of blood and lifespan, as well as infectious inoculations, from Varroa mite parasitism; infections by exotic microbes, especially Nosema ceranae and RNA iruses; and exposure to toxic or 'made toxic' (by adjuvants) chemical residues."
"Is it any wonder that our honey bee colonies are having a hard time surviving?" Mussen asks.
You can catch up on what's troubling the bees and the scientific research under way by reading his bimonthly newsletter, from the UC apiaries, posted on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.
Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture magazine, makes seven good points in his piece on honey bee health published in the Jan. 18th edition of The Daily Green.
Scientists, he writes, don't know what exactly causes colony collapse disorder (CCD), the mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen bee, brood and food stores.
But Flottum says, all this research on what ails them provides insight on what will help them. He lists seven key maladies that may be contributing to CCD.
One of them is poor nutrition.
"Honey bees forced to dine on only a single source of pollen have problems. Imagine living for a month on only Twinkies. The first one is great, the second good... the 123rd is disgusting, and, you are slowly starving to death. When researchers looked closely at the diet for our honey bees, they saw the problem and today--after four years--there are almost a dozen healthy food choices on the market we can feed our bees (including Megabee and Nozeivit, sold by Dadant; Ultra-Bee, sold by Mann Lake; and Feed Bee, sold by Ellingsons’s Inc.) That's progress. (But look at your grocery store and see how many kinds of dog food there are... wouldn't you think hard working honey bees should have the same choices?).
Flottum advocates diversity in the diet--and rightfully so.
"Make sure bees have a diverse and varied diet. Many floral sources are needed for a healthy, wholesome, season-long diet. And make sure those flowers have not been sprayed with the new insecticides and fungicides that are so detrimental to the young. And feeding bees is a good idea. Use one of the newer substitute diets available from the supply companies and feed whenever there's a food shortage or lack of variety. It will only help."
Check out the other six maladies contributing to a honey bee's poor health. We're all in this together, and together we can improve their health.
Honey bees--what do you know about them?
Do you know what the queen bee, worker bees and drones do? Do you know why bees swarm? Do you want to learn to be a beekeeper? Or, if you already are a beekeeper, how do you keep your hives healthy? If you're a researcher, what are your colleagues doing? Are we closer to finding the cause/causes of colony collapse disorder (CCD)?
You'll find the answers to those questions--and more--on a newly launched Bee Health Web site, the work of Cooperative Extension or "eXtension."
Coordinated by John Skinner, a professor and Extension apiculturist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, this Community of Practices project is the work of scores of experts across the country, including our own Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty. In fact, he and UC Davis native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, are among those featured in videos on the site. In addition, yours truly has some bee photos on the site.
Our hat (okay, our bee veil) is off to Skinner; vice chairs Keith Delaplane, professor at the University of Georgia; Jeffery Pettis, research leader at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., and IT technologist Michael Wilson, University of Tennessee.
Skinner hopes this will be the "go to" site for beekeeping information and bee science.
Indeed! This is like having the best and brightest minds in the research laboratories and bee industry at your workplace or in your living room.
If you have a question about bees, all you need do is ask. The cadre of experts will "bee" there for you.