Honey Bee Geneticist Rob Page Knows How to Answer This Question

If you ask honey bee geneticist Robert E. Page Jr. what his favorite honey is, he'll point to his wife, Michelle.

She--and any others near them--will smile every time!

Fact is, Rob Page is our favorite honey bee geneticist, and he was just named the recipient of the 2023 C. W. Woodworth Award, the highest honor accorded by the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA). 

It's an honor well deserved. And a honey of an award.

“Dr. Page is a pioneering researcher in the field of evolutionary genetics and social behavior of honey bees, and a highly respected and quoted author, teacher and former administrator,” wrote nominator Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. 

Page is the 12th UC Davis recipient of the award, first presented in 1969. His mentor, and later colleague, Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. (for whom the UC Davis bee biology research facility is named), won the award in 1981.

The PBESA awards ceremony will take place at its meeting, April 2-5, in Seattle. The organization encompasses 11 Western states, and parts of Canada, Mexico and U.S. territories. 

“One of Dr. Page's most salient contributions to science was to construct the first genomic map of the honey bee, which sparked a variety of pioneering contributions not only to insect biology but to genetics at large,” Nadler related. “It was the first genetic map of any social insect. He was the first to demonstrate that a significant amount of observed behavioral variation among honey bee workers is due to genotypic variation. In the 1990s, he and his students and colleagues isolated, characterized and validated the complementary sex determination gene of the honey bee; considered the most important paper yet published about the genetics of Hymenoptera. The journal Cell featured their work on its cover. In subsequent studies, he and his team published further research into the regulation of honey bee foraging, defensive and alarm behavior.” 

A native of Bakersfield, Rob holds a bachelor's degree in entomology (1976), with a minor in chemistry, from San Jose State University. He obtained his doctorate in entomology (1980) from UC Davis; joined the UC Davis faculty in 1989; and chaired the Department of Entomology from 1999 to 2004. He gained UC Davis emeritus professor-chair status in 2004,  the year that Arizona State University (ASU) recruited him to be the founding director of its School of Life Sciences. Page organized three departments—biology, microbiology and botany, totaling more than 600 faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staff--into one unified school. Using his UC Davis experiences, he established the school as a platform for discovery in the biomedical, genomic and evolutionary and environmental sciences; and established ASU's world-class Social Insect Research Group and Honey Bee Research Facility.

Page's career at ASU led to a series of top-level administrative roles: founding director, School of Life Sciences (2004-2010), vice provost and dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (2011-2013) and university provost, 2014-2015.

Nadler praised Page's strategic vision, his leadership and his contributions to science.  He built two modern apicultural labs (in Ohio and Arizona), major legacies that are centers of honey bee research and training. The Social Insect Research Group (SIRG) at ASU is regarded as “the best in the world,” according to the late E. O. Wilson. ASU Professor Bert Hoelldobler, in an ASU news release, declared Dr. Page  as "the leading honey bee geneticist in the world. A number of now well-known scientists in the U.S. and Europe learned the ropes of sociogenetics in Rob's laboratory.”

Page is an Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) highly-cited author in plant and animal science. In all, he has published more than 250 research papers and articles, edited or authored five books, and is listed as a “highly-cited author” by the ISI Web of Knowledge, representing the top 1/2 of one percent of publishing scientists. Statistics include: H-index = 80, and 21,925 citations.  Since retiring from UC Davis, Dr. Page has published 65 research papers, 8 major reviews and 2 scholarly books, many using his UC Davis affiliation. He authored “The Spirit of the Hive: The Mechanisms of Social Evolution” (Harvard University Press, 2013) and the “Art of the Bee: Shaping the Environment from Landscapes to Societies” (Oxford University Press, 2020). 

While at UC Davis, Page worked closely with Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., the father of honey bee genetics, and together they published many significant research papers and the landmark book, “Queen Rearing and Bee Breeding” (Wicwas Press, 1998). It is considered the most important resource book for honey bee genetics, breeding, and queen rearing.  Page is now in the process of updating it.

For 24 years, from 1989 to 2015, Page maintained a honey bee-breeding program, managed by bee breeder-geneticist Kim Fondrk. Their contributions include discovering a link between social behavior and maternal traits in bees. Their work was featured in a cover story in the journal Nature. In all, Nature featured his work on four covers from work mostly done at UC Davis.

A 2012 Fellow of the Entomological Society of America, Page has held national and international offices. He served as secretary, chair-elect, chair, subsection cb (apiculture and social insects) of ESA from 1986-1989; president of the North American Section, International Union for the Study of Social Insects, 1991; and a Council member, International Bee Research Association, 1995-2000.

Among his many honors: 

  • Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Awardee of the Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist Award (the Humboldt Prize - the highest honor given by the German government to foreign scientists)
  • Foreign Member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences
  • Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • Elected to the Leopoldina - the German National Academy of Sciences (the longest continuing academy in the world)
  • Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
  • Fellow of the Entomological Society of America
  • Awardee of the Carl Friedrich von Siemens Fellowship
  • Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences
  • Fellow, Carl Friedrich von Siemens Foundation, Munich, Germany, September 2017-August
  • Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Award from UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
  • James Creasman Award of Excellence (ASU Alumni Association)
  • UC Davis Distinguished Emeritus Professor, one awarded annually
  • Distinguished Emeritus Award, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, one awarded annually

In his letter of support, colleague and research collaborator James R. Carey, distinguished professor of entomology at UC Davis,  described Page as "one of the most gifted scientists, administrators, and teachers I have had the privilege to know in my 42 years in academia.”

Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of Washington State University, former manager of the Laidlaw facility, emphasized Page's importance to the bee breeding and beekeeping industry. Cobey, who has based her career on the Page-Laidlaw Closed Population Breeding, wrote that: “The beauty of this system is that it is practical and addresses the unique challenges of honey bee stock improvement. Queens mate in flight with numerous drones and selection is based upon complex behaviors at the colony level, influenced by the environmental. Hence, traditional animal breeding models do not apply well to honey bees.”

Nadler also noted that “Dr. Page was involved in genome mappings of bumble bees, parasitic wasps and two species of ants. His most recent work focuses on the genetic bases of individuality in honey bees; demonstrating genetic links between pollen and nectar collection, tactile and olfactory learning characteristics, and neuroendocrine function. This work provides the most detailed understanding to date of the molecular and genetic bases to task variation in a social insect colony.” 

Nadler added: "Not surprisingly, Dr. Page humbly considers his most far-reaching and important accomplishment, the success of his mentees, including at least 25 graduate students and postdocs who are now faculty members at leading research institutions around the world."

Charles William Woodworth (1865-1940), is considered the founder of both the UC Berkeley and UC Davis departments of entomology.  William Harry Lange Jr., (1912-2004) was the first UC Davis recipient of the Woodworth award (1978). Other recipients: Harry Laidlaw Jr., (1907-2003), 1981; Robert Washino, 1987; Thomas Leigh (1923-1993), 1991; Harry Kaya, 1998; Charles Summers, (1941-2021), 2009; Walter Leal, 2010; Frank Zalom, 2011; James R. Carey, 2014; Thomas Scott, 2015; and Lynn Kimsey, 2020.

Joining Rob Page in the 2023 PBESA winners' circle from UC Davis: community ecologist Louie Yang, professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, recipient of the Distinction in Student Mentoring Award; and UC Davis student Gary Ge, of the UC Davis Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology, who won the second annual Dr. Stephen Garczynski Undergraduate Research Scholarship. 

The complete list of this year's PBESA recipients is posted here