So said bee scientist and author Tom Seeley of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., when he keynoted the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium, held March 3 in the UC Davis Conference Center.
"EVERYTHING that colonies do when they are living on their own (not being managed by beekeepers) is done to favor their survival and their reproduction, and thus their success is contribution to the next generation of colonies," Seeley said in his talk on "Darwinian Beekeeping."
"And I mean everything."
Seeley, the Horace White Professor in Biology, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, where he teaches courses on animal behavior and researches the behavior and social life of honey bees, visually transported the symposium crowd to his research site, the 4200-acre Arnot Teaching and Research Forest owned by Cornell University.
Located about 15 miles from the campus, Arnot Forest is a place where the honey bees live in the wild, that is, they are not managed by beekeepers, Seeley pointed out. They build small nest cavities high in the trees, about 25 feet high, and space their colonies apart by at least 750 meters. They build drone comb freely, amounting to 15 to 20 percent of the nest cavity. They live as they did millions of years ago.
It's survival by natural selection.
"We can learn from the wild colonies," Seeley said. "I go into the wild areas and track down where bees are living and follow the bees home. It takes me about two days to find a bee tree."
Does the Arnot Forest have Varroa mites, the worldwide parasitic, virus-transferring mite that's considered the No. 1 enemy of beekeepers? A pest that arrived in the New York area around 1994?
Yes, they do. All the colonies in the forest are infested with Varroa mites. And they survive.
Seeley's research shows that before 1978 (pre-Varroa mite), the forest contained 2.8 colonies per square mile. After 2002 (post-Varroa mite), the forest still contained 2.8 colonies per square mile.
Honey bees typify the Charles Darwinian concept of evolution by natural selection, Seeley said. Indeed, "all bees living today are the products of natural selection."
Darwin, who described comb building as "the most wonderful of all (insect) instincts" and Lorenzo L. Langstroth, who invented the movable-frame hive, "both had important insights that can help us with our beekeeping," Seeley related.
"Darwinian beekeeping is allowing the bees to use their own beekeeping skills fully."
However, Darwinian beekeeping or "bee friendly beekeeping" is not for everyone, Seeley emphasized. "It's not for large-scale beekeepers, it's not for urban beekeepers. It is an option for small-scale rural beekeepers who want to avoid chemical treatments and who are satisfied with modest honey crops."
With Darwinian beekeeping, the emphasis is on the "environment of evolutionary adaptedness, "or the original environment in which wild colonies live," Seeley said. "Colonies are genetically adapted to their location."
How can beekeepers practice Darwinian beekeeping?
"Keep bees that are adapted to your location," he said. "Rear queens from your best survivor colonies, OR capture swarms with bait hives in remote locations OR purchase queens from a queen breeder who produces locally adapted queens."
"If the mite level gets high (more than 10 mites per 100 bees), then euthanize the colony; pour warm, soap water into hive at dusk," he said. "This does two things: it eliminates your non-resistant colonies and it avoids producing mite bombs. An alternative to euthanasia of the colony: treat for Varroa and requeen with a queen of resistant stock."
The issues of hive size and proximity are also important. Many modern beekeepers use "multi-storied wooden kits, super-sized like McDonald's," the professor said. "And managed bee hives are often a meter away from one another, as compared to 750 meters in the wild."
Seeley also said it's important "not to disturb colonies in winter: no checking, no stimulative feeding, no pollen patties, etc. Even a brief removal of the lid causes winter cluster to raise its temperature in alarm for several hours."
In his presentation, Seeley touched on nine Darwinian beekeeping tips, summarized here:
1. Keep bees that are adapted to your location
2. House colonies in small hives and let them swarm
3. Space colonies as widely as possible
4. Line hives with propolis collection screens or untreated lumber to allow them to build a "propolis (antimicrobial) shield"
5. Provide the most resilient (lowest mite count) colonies with 10 to 20 percent drone comb
6. Keep the nest structure intact
7. Use a small, bottom entrance
8. Do not disturb colonies in winter
9. Refrain from treating colonies for Varroa
He lists 20 Darwinian beekeeping tips in his article published in the March 2017 edition of the American Bee Journal. (The article also appears on the Natural Beekeeping Trust website, printed with permission.)
Seely is the author of Honeybee Ecology: A Study of Adaptation in Social Life(1985), The Wisdom of the Hive: the Social Physiology of Honey Bee Colonies (1995), and Honeybee Democracy (2010), all published by Princeton Press.
The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology sponsored the event, which drew a crowd of 250. Amina Harris, director of the center, coordinated the event.
In introducing the keynote speaker, Professor Neal Williams of the entomology faculty and the faculty co-director of the Honey and Pollination Center board, described Seeley's work as "innovative and insightful. He is truly a gifted author who blends science and philosophy."
The evolutionary history of honey bees dates back millions and millions of years. Bees are thought to have appeared at least 130 million years ago, according to British biologist Dave Goulson, author of A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees. The oldest known bee in amber is about 80 million old, Goulson estimates. It's a stingless bee "similar to species that live today in South America."
Honey bees? Consider the fossilized worker bee discovered in 30-million-year-old sedimentary rock in Germany.
Bee scientist Thomas Dyer Seeley of Cornell University says that "honey bee colonies have experienced millions of years being shaped by the relentless operation of natural selection. Natural selection maximizes the abilities of living systems (such honey bee colonies) to pass on their genes to future generations."
In an article published in the March 2017 edition of the American Bee Journal on "Darwinian Beekeeping: An Evolutionary Approach to Apiculture," Seeley wrote: "As someone who has devoted his scientific career to investigating the marvelous inner workings of honey bee colonies, it saddens me to see how profoundly--and ever increasingly--conventional beekeeping disrupts and endangers the lives of colonies."
On Saturday, March 3, Seeley will share his experiences, research and suggestions on beekeeping when he addresses the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposum, themed "Keeping Bees Healthy."
The all-day event, sponsored by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, takes place in the UC Davis Conference Center. Registration ends this week, according to coordinator Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center.
Seeley, who will speak at 9:15 a.m., is the Horace White Professor in Biology in Cornell's Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, where he teaches courses on animal behavior and researches the behavior and social life of honey bees. He's the author of Honeybee Ecology: A Study of Adaptation in Social Life (1985), The Wisdom of the Hive: the Social Physiology of Honey Bee Colonies (1995), and Honeybee Democracy (2010), all published by Princeton University Press. His books will be available for purchase and signing at the symposium.
The daylong event "is designed for beekeepers of all experience levels, including gardeners, farmers and anyone interested in the world of pollination and bees," said Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center. "In addition to our speakers, there will be lobby displays featuring graduate student research posters, the latest in beekeeping equipment, books, honey, plants, and much more."
Seeley's talk promises to be both informative and captivating.
Fact is, honey bees "lived independently from humans for millions of years, and during this time they were shaped by natural selection to be skilled at surviving and reproducing wherever they lived, in Europe, western Asia, or Africa," Seeley wrote in the American Bee Journal.
Seeley will share "what can we do, as beekeepers, to help honey bee colonies live with a better fit to their environment, and thereby live with less stress and better health."
It's all about "keeping bees healthy."
Registration is underway for the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium: Keeping Bees Healthy, set Saturday, March 3 in the UC Davis Conference Room on Alumni Drive. It's sponsored by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Keynote speaker is noted bee scientist/professor/author Tom Seeley of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., who will speak on "Darwinian Beekeeping" at 9:15 a.m.
Seeley is the Horace White Professor in Biology, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, where he teaches courses on animal behavior and researches the behavior and social life of honey bees. He's the author of Honeybee Ecology: A Study of Adaptation in Social Life (1985), The Wisdom of the Hive: the Social Physiology of Honey Bee Colonies (1995), and Honeybee Democracy (2010), all published by Princeton University Press. His books will be available for purchase and signing at the symposium.
The daylong event "is designed for beekeepers of all experience levels, including gardeners, farmers and anyone interested in the world of pollination and bees," said Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center. "In addition to our speakers, there will be lobby displays featuring, the latest in beekeeping equipment, books, honey, plants, and much more."
Graduate students throughout the country are invited to submit their research posters. The winners will share $1800 in cash prizes. Applications must be submitted to Liz Luu at firstname.lastname@example.org, by Feb. 12. For the rules, see this web page.
The conference begins with registration and a continental breakfast at 8:30 a.m., with welcomes and introductions at 9 a.m., by Amina Harris and Neal Williams, UC Davis professor of entomology and faculty co-director of the center. Seeley's keynote address follows.
10:15 a.m. The Evolution and Chemical Ecology of Orchid Bees
Santiago Ramírez, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology
10:45 a.m. Break
Graduate student posters available for viewing
11 a.m. Understanding the Nuances of Honey: An Educational Tasting
Amina Harris, Director, Honey and Pollination Center, Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, UC Davis
12 Noon. Master Beekeeper Program
Honoring the Apprentice Level Master Beekeepers—Pin Ceremony
Elina Lastro Niño, Extension Apiculturist, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Bernardo Niño, Staff Research Associate, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
12:30 p.m. Lunch
Graduate student poster presentations
2 p.m. An Update from Project Apis m
Danielle Downey, executive director, Project Apis m
2:45 p.m. Designing Bee-Friendly Gardens
Kate Frey of Hopland, Calif., ecological garden designer, consultant and columnist, and co-author of The Bee-Friendly Garden (with Gretchen LeBuhn, professor of biology, San Francisco State University). The book won the American Horticultural Society 2017 Book Award.
3:30 p.m. Break
3:30 p.m. Lightning Round
4 to 6-minute presentations about many different programs in the world of beekeeping followed by a question and answer session
4:30 p.m. Winners of the Graduate Student Poster Competition Announced
4:45 p.m. Close
Reception (weather permitting) in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.