The three-year grant, titled "Strengthening Honey Bee Health and Crop Pollination to Safeguard Food Availability and Affordability" and headed by principal investigator Boris Baer, a UC Riverside professor of entomology, also includes the San Diego and Merced campuses. “I'm very excited about so many different kinds of bee expertise joining forces through this project,” Baer said.
"Most excitingly, this funding will not only support research that will help improve pollinator health so crucial for California's agriculture, but it will provide opportunities for training of students and postdoctoral scholars,” said co-principal investigator, Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, which operates the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. “Work focused on improving honey bee stocks via novel tools aligns well with ongoing work in the Niño lab and will further cement collaborations with beekeepers and growers.”
Honey bees pollinate more than 80 agricultural crops, accounting for about a third of the American diet. Researchers attribute the widespread collapse of bee colonies over the past decade to several factors, including pesticide exposure, spread of parasites and pathogens, habitat destruction and environmental changes. Population declines have resulted in decreased pollination services and increased food prices. Worldwide declines continue despite substantial efforts of researchers, beekeepers, conservationists, and growers to identify the issues facing pollinator communities and develop innovative solutions.
The UC scientists plan a three-pronged approach to resolve the issue: develop better breeding programs, better medications and treatments, and better tools to monitor bee health in the hives. Small “listening and smelling” devices will be placed inside the hives to monitor bee health.
In the successful grant proposal, part of the Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives (MRPI), the researchers wrote:
"Safeguarding honey bees and their pollination services requires beekeepers to be better able to manage the health and survival of colonies, which requires research into the causal factors and interactions affecting pollinator health, and the development and implementation of novel tools in close collaboration with industry partners. To do this, we will form a California wide, cross disciplinary research network and
- experimentally study the ecological and molecular factors and their interactions that affect honey bee health and their interactions to identify biomarkers of their health
- use the knowledge gained to develop and deliver new, effective solutions for stakeholders, including remote sensing of bee health, a marker-assisted breeding program, and the development of novel medications,
- build a research industry nexus to conduct collaborative research. We will also develop and deploy new extension and outreach modules that will be offered through UC Cooperative Extension statewide. We will support California beekeepers to build and maintain a sustainable and profitable beekeeping industry, which has implications for food security on a national level."
Niño, who works closely with California beekeepers, launched and directs the California Master Beekeeper Program, which uses science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors for honey bees and beekeeping.
The co-principal investigators also noted in their grant proposal that "The current coronavirus pandemic and impending recession is putting more pressure on agriculture to provide sufficient and affordable food. Honey bees are key to such efforts, and supporting a California based beekeeping industry also decreases the state's dependence on managed pollination from elsewhere, thereby creating new jobs and income."
Funding also will help provide research opportunities for undergraduates, including underrepresented students, with the goal of ensuring that the pipeline of students who enter research, academia, industry, and multiple other professions reflects the diversity of the communities in which they learn and work.
Co-principal investigator James Nieh of UC San Diego, said he and his students will be testing how nutritional supplements may help bees that have been exposed to pesticides and on how to harness the natural honey bee microbiome against a very common bee gut disease.
“We want to use what evolution has already given us to deal with bee disease because this should be a more natural and sustainable approach,” said Nieh, a professor in the Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution, Division of Biological Sciences. “Researchers have also focused a great deal on the harms caused by pesticides and this has helped improve some aspects of regulation," he said in a UC San Diego news release. "But we need to develop treatments for bees that are exposed to these chemicals because we will not realistically be able to eliminate all pesticide use.”
Co-principal investigator Joshua Kohn of UC San Diego said research in his lab is aimed at understanding the complex genomes of feral honey bees in Southern California. These bees have genomes that are a complex mixture of genomes of honey bee varieties from Africa, Europe and the Middle East, Kohn said in a UC San Diego news release. He described the feral bees as "highly genetically diverse and ecologically successful." Their genomes, he pointed out, likely hold variation useful to breeding domesticated honey bees with increased levels of resistance to the common diseases that currently plague the honey bee industry.
“This network of bee researchers comprises a unique mixture of expertise that can apply highly multidisciplinary approaches to benefit the honey bee industry essential to the production of many of California's most economically important crops,” Kohn related.
Other co-principal investigators are Kerry Mauck, Tsotras Vassilis, and Kim Hyoseung, all of UC Riverside. Marilia Gaiarsa of UC Merced is a co-investigator.
Despite COVID-19 pandemic precautions and constraints, the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMBP), headquartered at the University of California, Davis, has certified its first-ever Master Beekeeper: Amy Hustead of Grass Valley, a veteran beekeeper who also happens to be the first and only beekeeper in her family.
Hustead, president of the Nevada County Beekeepers Association and a veterinary technician, recently passed the Master-level beekeeper certification process.
CAMBP, founded and co-directed by Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, uses science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors for honey bees and beekeeping. It offers three levels of certification (Apprentice, Journey and Master). Niño launched the first Apprentice class in 2016.
Hustead's passion is education and outreach, said Niño and CAMBP manager Wendy Mather.
Hustead's Master Capstone project involved teaching two, three-hour online CAMBP classes (“Planning Ahead for Your First Hives,” and “Working Your Colonies.”) She designed, developed and successfully delivered "Intermediate Backyard Beekeeping," an in-depth, online, four-hour course on science-based beekeeping for the hobbyist and sideliner. Topics included winter and spring preparation, swarm prevention, active swarming, splits and nucs (nucs, or nucleus colonies, are small colonies created from larger colonies), diseases, nutrition, maximizing honey production, and harvesting honey, wax, propolis and pollen.
Amy Hustead, a wife, mother of 9-year-old twin boys, and a seven-year beekeeper, said she really enjoys CAMBP. “It has allowed me to meet some really excellent beekeepers. I plan to continue to teach classes and help educate people on the biology of bees.”
What fascinates Hustead about bees? “When I was in college I studied sociobiology, which is a field of biology that explains social behavior in terms of evolution,” she said. “I have always been fascinated by the cross section of evolution and behavior. Bees are the epitome of social insects. Everything they do is for the good of the whole.”
“I dabbled in homesteading when I first moved to the foothills, and like a lot of people, started out keeping chickens. I think I wanted to get goats but my husband was not on board, so I decided to get bees instead.”
As a veterinary technician, she works in low-cost spay and neuter programs. "I also volunteer with an organization that provides veterinary care to pets of homeless and low-income people in the Sacramento area."
Bees keep her occupied at several locations. “I have between 15-20 personal colonies at three different locations,” Hustead related. ”I also manage a few colonies for other people.”
As it turns out, this year is not a good year for bees. “Mostly my bees aren't doing well this year,” she said. “The nectar flow was non-existent, and the recent fires haven't helped. For the first year ever I am harvesting no honey from my yard at home.”
Hustead home-schools her twins. “I am very serious about home-schooling my kids, and part of our curriculum is extensive travel.” The Hustead family has visited a number of states in the nation, and has already been to Mexico, Ireland, Costa Rica. “We are planning a Europe trip as soon as possible.“
“This year, despite COVID-19 constraints, the California Master Beekeeper Program continues its mission of using science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors for honey bees and beekeeping, by moving its courses and exams online,” Mather said.
CAMBP's current 53 Apprentice candidates will take their online exam Sept. 12. To pass, they must score at least 75 percent. “Candidates will upload videos or partake in 'live from their apiary' Zoom sessions to satisfy the requirements of the practical rubric,” Mather said.
The Journey-level candidates have completed the online written portion of their certification and their videos and Zoom practicals are in progress. “So far, we're proud to announce that all 15 Journey level candidates scored above 80 percent on their written exams, and their videos and Zoom practicals are looking great!” Mather commented.
The Master level usually takes an average of five years to achieve. Some candidates choose to remain as Apprentice or Journey-level beekeepers. CAMBP offers pre-approved Master Capstone Tracks, but also encourages candidates to follow their passion if their favorites are not on the list, which includes:
- Native Bees and Pollinator Gardens
- Commercial Beekeeping
- Scientific Research
- Education and Outreach
- Policy for Honey Bees and Native Pollinators
Seven Master-Level Candidates
The seven Master-level candidates for the 2020-21 season are pursuing a variety of projects, including mapping drone congregation areas, authoring a book on the history of honey in ancient Greece, establishing a pollen library for the state of California, starting a commercial beekeeping business, and training a “detector dog” in the apiary.
To maintain active status as a Master Beekeeper with CAMBP, members are required to perform and log 25 hours of BEEs (Beneficial Education Experiences). Hustead will perform a minimum of 25 volunteer hours annually. Her volunteer service, at the minimum, is valued at $25.43 per hour or about $600 per year.
“Amy will have no problem doing that as she's active as the president of her local beekeeping club,” Mather said, “and she mentors many new beekeepers to help them become science-based stewards and ambassadors of honey bees and beekeeping.”
The course, set from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and conducted by CAMBP director and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will cover the scientific "hands-on" portion of the journey level of the CAMBP.
"We will offer the attendees an opportunity to familiarize themselves with dissecting tools and microscopy, examine specimens under the microscope and perform dissections," Niño said. "Participants will explore in detail the anatomy and physiology of the honey bee."
Attendees will learn how to identify and examine distinct parts of external and internal honey bee anatomy, including ocelli, body segmentation and corbicula, as well as honey bee circulatory, digestive, nervous, respiratory, reproductive and glandular systems. They will compare different body parts between different honey bee castes (queen, drone and worker bee.)
Registration for the course is $200. It includes a continental breakfast, snacks, and a catered lunch. Click here to register.
CAMBP also is sponsoring a varroa management course on Saturday, Oct. 13 at the Laidlaw facility. That class is filled. “We will be offering another in May/June 2020,” said CAMBP program manager Wendy Mather. “It's so wonderful to see how serious beekeepers are about varroa mite mitigation. Beekeepers are a caring community."
CAMBP uses science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors for honey bees and beekeeping. The Master Beekeepers serve as knowledgeable ambassadors who disseminate science-based information about the importance of honey bees, preserving bee health and responsible beekeeping.
"We've just completed our apprentice exams for this year!" said Mather. "In 2019 we have 26 new CAMBP apprentices in San Diego, 34 in Davis, and we are welcoming our first 22 journey level members!"
And that they did, under the tutelage and watchful eyes of Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, director of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMPB) and CAMPB educational supervisor Bernardo Niño, a staff research assistant in the E. L. Niño lab at the University of California, Davis.
The 23 participants in the short course, "Planning Ahead for Your First Hives," gathered at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road to spend a Saturday learning all about bees via lectures and hands-on activities.
They learned about honey bee biology, the components of a hive and where to place the hive. Then they donned bee veils and stepped outside to the apiary to learn hive inspection basics. They returned to the classroom for lunch and a Powerpoint presentation on "Keeping Bees Year-Around."
Highlights included opening a hive and engaging in queen wrangling, hands-on activities (holding a frame and identifying the queen, worker bees and drones), and varroa mite monitoring. The participants also examined several different types of the hives in the apiary, including the traditional Langstroth hive, Kenya top bar hive or horizontal top bar-hive, Warré hive and a flow hive. The short course ended with a session on "Save us from the hive intruders!" and a question-and-answer period.
CAMPB also hosted a short course the next day on "Working Your Colonies." Participants learned what is necessary to maintain a healthy colony. Lectures covered advanced honey bee biology, honey bee integrated pest management, and products of the hive. Participants also learned about queen wrangling, honey extraction, splitting/combined colonies, and monitoring for varroa mites.
Both courses drew maximum enrollment. "The classes were excellent," commented Wendy Mather, program manager of CAMPB. "We received really great feedback and the participants were thrilled to get the in-hive experience. And we got to sample some melipona honey (from stingless bees) from the Yucatán, as one of our participants had recently returned from a trip there."
The participants "now have some science-based knowledge and skills about honey bees and beekeeping that they can confidently share," Mather said.
Honey bee scientist Elina Lastro Niño, the statewide Extension apiculturist and member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty since 2014, conducts bee classes throughout much of the year. She is known for her expertise on honey bee queen biology, chemical ecology, and genomics. She holds a doctorate in entomology from Pennsylvania State University (PSU), where she served as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Christina Grozinger, director of the PSU Center for Pollinator Research.
The California Master Beekeeping Program uses science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors for honey bees and beekeeping. Check the website schedule for classes or contact Mather at email@example.com for more information.
The conference, “Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health,” took place in the ARC Ballroom and covered a wide range of topics in pollinator research: from genomics to ecology and their application to land use and management; to breeding of managed bees; and to monitoring of global pollinator populations, according to the co-chairs, pollination ecologist and professor Neal Williams and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, directed by Amina Harris, coordinated the conference, with events manager Elizabeth Luu praised as "the heavy hitter." (See agenda.)
"This was the fourth International Conference on Pollinator Biology, Health and Policy," Williams said. "Each time we try to add new elements that address emerging challenges and new directions in research. This year's sessions felt as fresh and innovative as ever, adding symposia on climate change, innovative monitoring and data collection, and urban bees. By restricting presenters to those who had not presented in the past six years we also added new voices and perspectives."
"We also grew," Williams said "In the past the conference has been just under 200 attendees. This year it topped 250, and we had to turn away several people because we simply could not fit more into the space. We added a second evening of posters to provide more time to interact. The response was overwhelming with 112 poster presenters!"
"We also added more explicit policy elements by creating a set of ViewPOINTS documents summarizing key areas in pollinator biology and heath that target policy makers. This has allowed for collaborative interaction across the attendees and a set of deliverable products from our interactions."
"It was an amazing team effort pulling it all together," Williams said. "Liz Luu from the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center was in a word, fantastic, keeping every thing and everyone together. The HPC really showed what it can do and what tremendous value it adds to our campus. The organizing committee worked so well together, sharing the load throughout. A great set of colleagues!"
Keynote speakers were Lynn Dicks, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, England, and Christina Grozinger, distinguished professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, Pennsylvania State University.
Dicks keynoted the conference on Thursday, July 18, discussing "The Importance of People in Pollinator Conservation." Grozinger delivered the keynote address, "Bee Nutritional Ecology: From Genes to Landscapes" on Friday, July 19.
Elina Lastro Niño delivered a presentation on the California Master Beekeeper Program, which she founded and directs. UC Davis community ecologist Rachel Vannette, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, presented a talk on her hummingbird research.
Two receptions took place at the Honey and Pollination Conference on Old Davis Road: the opening night reception on Wednesday, July 17 and a honey-tasting and dinner reception on Thursday, July 18.
The next International Pollinator Conference will take place at Pennsylvania State University. Grozinger and Rufus Isaacs of Michigan State University launched the conference in 2012. They are held every third year.
An image of the late Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology and a global authority on bees, held a prominent place at the conference. He assisted many scientists who have attended the conferences.