UC Davis alumnus and bee expert Elizabeth Frost, a technical specialist for bees with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, sadly knows the fire scene well.
Frost, a 13-year beekeeper, recently authored "24 Million Acres: Reports from Australia's Massive Fire Scar," published in the quarterly magazine, 2 Million Blossoms. The informative piece tackles the subject of Australian bushfires and it provides insight into the kind of scorched path lying ahead for California beekeepers.
"Bees don't abscond but stay with the hives as far as I can tell from beekeeper anecdotal evidence," Frost told us this week. "Where a 'cool' burn runs quickly through the bee yard, hives generally suffer from radiant heat. Post-fire, they should should be fed supplementally if there are no natural food sources where they can be moved to, and requeened. Otherwise, ongoing queen/productivity issues result."
At UC Davis, Frost worked with bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey (now at Washington State University) at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. The two colleagues are closely following the California wildfire disaster. "This is devastating--it will take years to recover," Cobey said.
An integral part of what's occurring both here and Australia, the colleagues said, is climate change. "Prolonged and potentially extreme bushfire seasons in Australia due to climate change is our present reality, not our future," wrote Frost in 2 Million Blossoms.
Meanwhile, the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council is keying on rebuilding the bushfire-devastated honey bee and pollination industry.
Frost described the 2019-20 bush fires in 2 Million Blossoms: "24 million acres were burnt in Australia's 2019-2020 bushfire season. In Australia's biggest beekeeping state, New South Wales (NSW), the 2019-20 bush-fires burnt through 13 million acres, 7% of the state's area, including 37% of NSW National Parks and 50% of State forests. NSW Apiarists' Association President Stephen Targett noted, “NSW Bushfires have burnt over 9,809 hives and wiped out the field of over 88,094 hives and burnt just over 5 million hectares of forests. With minimal autumn prospects, a small percentage of these affected hives will be suitable for almond pollination. While the mature almond orchards in Australia don't cover anywhere near as much land as in the United States, they still require around 220,000 hives in August, when mass bloom occurs in the Southern Hemisphere."
"This bushfire disaster was unprecedented in its impact on the Australian beekeeping industry which relies on native tall timber forests of nectar and pollen yielding trees to produce 30,000 tons of honey in a good year," Frost wrote. "Most of these species flower once every 3 to 4 years, unless soil moisture is below average for extended periods in which case some trees may not flower for up to 10 years. Australia's unique flora and dispersed bloom times means beekeepers must pay keen attention to botanical detail in order to effectively migrate to nectar flows that are not annual or even biannual. Australia lost vast swathes of vital natural sources of nutrition, species that provide car- bohydrates, proteins, amino and fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. The bushfires destroyed prime habitat that functioned as a safe haven far from the threat of pesticides to honey bees and native pollinators alike."
Frost called attention to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), a leading Australian federal government scientific agency, that has been conducting bushfire research for almost 70 years. "Bushfires are a natural part of the Australian landscape, necessary for the regeneration of many endemic plant species that evolved with the harsh climatic conditions of the world's lowest, flattest and (apart from Antarctica) driest continents," Frost pointed out. CSIRO reports that “bushfires are the result of a combination of weather and vegetation (which acts as a fuel for the fire), together with a way for the fire to begin – most commonly due to a lightning strike and sometimes human-influences (mostly accidental such as the use of machinery which produces a spark).”
The impact of climate change has led to longer, more intense fire seasons, Frost related, and an increase in the average number of elevated fire weather days, as measured by the Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI). Last year saw the highest annual accumulated FFDI on record.
"Climate change doesn't cause fires directly, but has caused an increase in the occurrence of extreme fire weather and in the length of the fire season across large parts of Australia since the 1950s," Frost wrote. "In addition to 2019 being the driest year since records began in 1900, it was Australia's warmest year. In 2019 the annual mean temperature was 1.52 °C above average.”
Frost asked: "In the short term, how will the beekeeping industry evolve to cope with millions of acres of its floral resource burnt and unproductive, providing no bee forage for at least the next few years? Supplemental feeding, previously practiced sparingly in Australia, will have to become the norm for the country if beekeepers hope to bring colonies up to required colony strength as agreed in their almond pollination contracts."
Sadly, it's a long singed recovery as well for the California beekeepers victimized by the wildfires. (To offer financial support for Caroline Yelle, owner of Pope Canyon Queens, access the Gofundme account.)
She's the newly hired honey bee development officer, an Extension-like position, in the state of New South Wales.
Frost left the States last Sunday, Jan. 10. The government position involves working with the commercial beekeeping industry in New South Wales in "course development and training, policy making, and other projects, including the importation of honey bee semen to Australia, and oxytetracycline prescriptions for European Foulbrood treatment, etc." she related.
We first met Liz in 2008 when she joined the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Facility as the staff research associate for bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, then manager of the facility. Among her many duties, Frost maintained the apiaries and lab facilities, and aided in experiments and instruction in queen rearing and instrumental insemination.
We watched her lead tours with Cobey, now a geneticist-bee breeder at Washington State University; harvest honey; learn to drive the stick-shift bee truck; plant a pollinator garden in front of the Laidlaw facility; engage in a (private) bee bearding activity directed by Cobey; and even install pigeon-control devices on the eaves of the facility.
Frost also hosted the annual "Pi Day" every March 14 for faculty, staff and students at the Laidlaw facility. We all brought pies to celebrate the mathematical constant π (pi).
The Laidlaw facility buzzed with the enthusiasm, commitment and dedication of the Cobey/Frost team.
Frost, who holds a bachelor of arts degree in English and Italian from UC Davis with a minor in entomology, left the Laidlaw facility to join the Bee Informed Partnership, based in College Park, Md. (read her posts), and then headed off to Australia to become a honey bee development officer with the New South Wales government. From California to Australia...and now it's back to Australia...
As a honey bee development officer, she created educational tools for beekeepers in the form of an online Honey Bee Pest and Disease Course, a Queen Bee Breeding book in hard copy and online publication (iBook and EPUB), a bimonthly column (The Frost Report) in the New South Wales Apiarist Association magazine (Honey Bee News), face-to-face courses in queen breeding, and online fact sheets.
About the pest/disease course: "If a beekeeper with one or thousands of colonies wants to learn more about honey bee pests and diseases this course is a valuable, interactive tool with tutorials including videos to supplement the text, and short quizzes," she explained. "In Australia this is a nationally accredited course which awards participants units of competency upon successful completion of assessment tasks."
Her fact sheet on Hygienic Behavior Testing includes step- by-step instructions with illustrations. "Hygienic behavior is a honey bee trait which confers resistance to chalkbrood and American foulbrood (AFB), two serious brood diseases in Australia. AFB is especially serious in Australia considering it is illegal to treat AFB infected hives with oxytetracyline (OTC) as it only masks the symptoms and can contaminate honey. This fact sheet and others produced by New South Wales Dept. of Primary Industry Apiary Technical Officers are located on this site.
She also taught a course on queen bee breeding in Australia with co-worker Doug Somerville. The late Gretchen Wheen, a pioneer in instrumental insemination in Australia, played key roles in establishing two bee breeding programs in Western Australia and the Eastern States (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria) and the Eastern Creek Quarantine Station which enabled safe, legal importation of new honey bee stock. (The course is listed on this site.)
"These products are educational tools for beekeepers worldwide, but are specifically geared toward the Australian beekeeping industry in regard to the subjects of relevant endemic and exotic pests and diseases and seasonal management and floral resources," Frost related. (She also appeared in this news media-produced video: "Frost Spreads the Beekeeping Gospel.")
When her VISA expired, Frost returned to the states and engaged in a number of projects, including a recent presentation to the California State Beekeepers' Association conference. She toyed with other apiculture opportunities in the States, but when the Australian opportunity surfaced, she made a beeline to return.
Liz Frost is excited to be back.
"Beekeeping in the Australian context is fascinating, not only because Varroa is absent in this country," she said. "The wealth of potential floral resources is astounding, giving beekeepers the opportunity to chase honey 12 months of the year. Around 70 to 80 percent of honey produced commercially is derived from eucalyptus and native forests. These stats shouldn't deceive the reader into thinking honey is easily had, however. The most successful honey producers in Australia know their country intimately. Part arborist, part meteorologist, and all beekeeper, they monitor buds on trees years in advance of a flowering event.
"Also to be considered is the fact that, while some native melliferous flora such as Yellow Box and Ironbark are profuse nectar producers in the right conditions, they can be seriously deficient as a pollen resource. This situation makes beekeeper management decisions before and after working such a honey crop vital to prevent colonies from working themselves to death in the absence of incoming and nutritious pollen."
Staff research associate/beekeeper Elizabeth Frost of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, earlier this year planted a pollinator patch in front of the facility--and what an eyecatcher it is.
She selected California golden poppies, lupine and foxgloves, among other choices. When spring emerged, the Laidlaw facility never looked so brilliant! Especially in front of the Laidlaw ceramic sign created by Donna Billick of Davis.
Frost posted a "Pollinator Habitat" sign in front that reads: "This area has been planted with a range of flowering native plants to provide high quality habitat for native bees and other pollinators. To learn how you can create good habitat for pollinators, please visit www.xerces.org.
Frost, a UC Davis graduate who joined the bee lab in 2008 and worked with bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, recently accepted a position on the Honey Bee Tech-Transfer Team, part of the Bee Informed Partnership. So, starting Sept. 1 Frost will be based at the Cooperative Extension office in Butte County.
What is the Bee Informed Partnership? To quote from the website, "It's an extension project that endeavors to decrease the number of managed honey bee colonies that die over the winter."
"Since the winter of 2006 - 2007, overwintering colonies in the US have died in large numbers. Affected beekeepers span the entire spectrum of the industry: migratory beekeepers to stationary beekeepers; and commercial beekeepers, part-time beekeepers, to backyard beekeepers. Migratory and stationary beekeepers alike have, on average, lost 30% or more of their overwintering colonies over the last several years. These losses are unsustainable. If they continue, they threaten not only the livelihoods of beekeepers who manage bees, but the livelihood of farmers who require bees to pollinate their crops."
Check out the Bee Informed team! And read their comments on why they like working with bees!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...er, the Laidlaw facility...the pollinators are populating the poppies. On any given day, you can see honey bees, drone flies, hover flies, dragonflies and butterflies.
Plant it and they will come.
After rain postponed the grand opening of the Davis Bee Collective's Bee Sanctuary not once, but twice--the third time, Sunday, April 1--proved to be “the charm.”
Derek Downey, who coordinates the Bee Collective and the Bee Sanctuary and is also known as “The Davis Bee Charmer,” praised the huge turnout at the sanctuary, which is located on Orchard Park Drive, near the Domes student housing.
The visitors, quite enthusiastic, "wanted to learn about keeping bees in top bar hives, providing habitat for native bees, creating hugelkulter gardening beds, creating odor-free no-turn compost piles, and propagating plants by cuttings," Downey said.
Participants helped "create beautiful painted signs for the garden, helped finish digging more hugelkulter garden beds, wrote love letters to the bees (to be buried in time capsule in garden), and offered donations to the Davis Bee Collective, including a shed," Downey noted.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology discussed native bees, including bumble bees, carpenter bees and leafcutting bees, and also answered questions on honey bees. European colonists brought honey bees to what is now the United States in 1622.
Beekeeper Elizabeth Frost, staff research associate at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, displayed an observation hive and fielded questions about honey bees, including how long they live and what they need to survive. “A queen bee can live two to three years,” she said, “but most commercial beekeepers requeen their hive every year.”
As Frost talked, the queen bee in the observation hive continued to lay eggs. “In the peak season, she can lay 2000 eggs as day,” Frost said.
The event also included a potluck, honey tasting (more than 10 flavors) and an information table featuring resources on keeping bees and lists of bee friendly plants.
The hives in the sanctuary are lettered with such names as "Just Bee," "Bee Happy," "Birdhouse" and "the Whaler Superorganism."
For the occasion, first-year beekeeper Eva Dopico, a second grade teacher at Cesar Chavez Elementary School, Davis, dressed as a bee.
Downey, a UC Davis engineering graduate, invites interested persons to join the Bee Collective and Bee Sanctuary; information on how to join is on the Davis Wiki website.
He moderates the Google group and adds new members. "If someone wants to just help out and learn about bees, they are always welcome to take part," he said. "We will have hives that are collectively managed so everyone can learn together. If someone wants to keep their own hive there, it is first-come, first served. We have space for 10 to 12 hives, max."
Members of the Bee Collective, a community-based group founded in 2005 by former UC Davis entomology graduate student Eli Sarnat, share resources, such as beekeeping equipment, books, and tools. Downey accepts donations for the Bee Collective and Bee Sanctuary (contact him at email@example.com or (310) 694-2405.)
Bee Sanctuary work parties are held every Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the site. Downey anticipates filling the other empty hives in the sanctuary via swarms he collects in Davis, Dixon, Sacramento, Woodland, and Winters.
The last time we encountered a praying mantis it was waiting for prey on a plant by the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
Then we saw two more that day in front of the Laidlaw facility. They jumped on us while we were watching the first one.
Surely we didn't look like prey!
Staff research associate/beekeeper Elizabeth Frost tends the garden in front and notices many of the stealthy little critters. They're perfectly camouflaged and ready to pounce.
The egg cases she earlier saw have hatched. One little, two little, three little mantids....
And probably many more.
They stay because the area is a good source of food--honey bees, sweat bees, butterflies, hover flies...
Those praying mantids grab unsuspecting--and sometimes quite slow--prey in their spiked forelegs and it's off with the head. Fast food it is. Fast food in the slow food movement....