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Posts Tagged: honey bees

From Marla Spivak to Amy Toth

Marla Spivak (Photo by Dan Williams)
May is a few months away, but already there's strong interest in the line-up of speakers at the UC Davis Bee Symposium,  set Saturday, May 9 in the UC Davis Conference Center.

The theme? "Keeping Bees Healthy."  An excellent topic. 

The all-day event will be presented by the Honey and Pollination Center and the Department of Entomology and Nematology.

The symposum 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, housed in the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. (See  news article.  To register, access this page.)

Keynote speaker is Marla Spivak, Distinguished McKnight Professor, University of Minnesota and a 2010 MacArthur Fellow.  Spivak will speak on "Helping Bees Stand on Their Own Six Feet."   

Another speaker is Amy Roth, assistant professor in the  Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Department of Entomology, Iowa State University, Ames. She will be doing double-speaking duty when she makes the 1761-mile trip to UC Davis. Roth will deliver separate talks on honey bees and social wasps.  At the May 9th symposium, she'll speak at 11 a.m. on "Combined Effects of Viruses and Nutritional Stress on Honey Bee Health."

A few days later, on Wednesday, May 13, her topic will turn to social paper wasps. She'll present a seminar,  hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, on "Molecular Evolution in Insect Societies: Insights from Genomics of Primitively Social Paper Wasps" from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, off Kleiber Hall Drive. 

A little more about social wasps...

"The evolution of highly cooperative, eusocial behavior from solitary ancestry represents one of the major transitions in the evolution of life," she says. "Thus, understanding the evolution of insect eusociality can provide important insights into the evolution of complexity.  Recently, with the advent of the genomic era, there has been great interest in understanding the molecular underpinnings of social behavior and its evolution. Several hypotheses about how eusociality have been proposed; these ideas can be roughly divided into two camps—one proposes that eusociality involved new (novel, or rapidly evolving) genes, and the other, that old (deeply conserved) genes took on new functions via shifts in gene regulation."

Toth will provide an overview of recent research in her laboratory "aiming to address the genomic basis of social evolution in insects, with a focus on gene expression.  Utilizing a comparative approach involving multiple species and lineages of bees and wasps, as well as denovo sequencing of genomes,transcriptomes, andepigenomes, our work aims to trace the types of genomic changes related to the evolutionary transition from solitary toeusocial behavior."

Toth will present results from several lines of research mainly focused on primitively social Polistes paper wasps, that have led to the following insights:

  1. Relatively minor shifts in gene expression patterns may accompany earlier stages of social evolution
  2.  Convergent evolution of social behavior in different lineages involves similar gene expression patterns in a small set of key pathways,
  3. Epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation are variable across species and evolutionarily labile.

"Although more data on additional solitary and social species, and on novel genes, are needed, the emerging picture is that earlier transitions from solitary to simple eusociality involved relatively small changes in gene expression and regulation," Toth points out.

All in all, it's going to be a busy week for Amy Toth. Honey bees first, on Saturday, May 9. The vegetarians. Then their cranky cousins, the social wasps, on Wednesday, May 13. The carnivores.

Amy Toth with a Polistes paper wasp.
Amy Toth with a Polistes paper wasp.

Amy Toth with a Polistes paper wasp.

Posted on Friday, February 20, 2015 at 4:06 PM

Feel the Buzz!

Honey bee packing pollen from an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The word is "bees"  and "almonds" are their world.

Right this very minute there are about 1.7 million colonies of bees pollinating California almonds. Since it takes two colonies to pollinate one acre, and California doesn't have that many bees,  beekeepers throughout the nation trucked in some 1.6 million colonies.

Feel the buzz!

"Spend a couple days driving on county roads around I5 and Hwy 99 in the Central Valley of California, and you can feel the excitement!" writes Christi Heintz, executive director of Project Apis m.  in her February newsletter. "Semi-load trucks are delivering over 400 hives each near orchards."

She lists five February facts: 

  1. Commercially-managed bees are just about ready for the biggest pollination event ON EARTH
  2. More than 3,500 truckloads of bees have crossed the border into California for the event,
  3. Almonds will require 1.7 million colonies this season
  4. If over-wintering losses for honey bees are hovering about the same as previous years (30 percent), almond pollination requires nearly ALL available commercially-managed colonies, and
  5. Some lucky bees have been able to forage on PAm's Mustard Mix and thus will not starve prior to bloom! 

What is Project Apis m.?

As Heintz explains: Project Apis m.'s mission is to fund and direct research to enhance the health and vitality of honey bee colonies while improving crop production. Our organization's name comes from Apis mellifera, the scientific name for the European honey bee.  Project Apis m. or PAm is the go-to organization at the interface of honeybees and pollinated crops. We've infused over 2.5 million into bee research since our inception in 2006 to provide growers with healthier bees resulting in better pollination and increased crop yields.  We have personal relationships with the nation's commercial beekeepers and with the top bee scientists in the country."

"We fund research studies, purchase equipment for bee labs at our universities, support graduate students and provide scholarships to young bee scientists to encourage their pursuit of science-based solutions to honey bee challenges."

"We are a non-profit 501 (c) (5) organization governed by an eight-member board. Our board members are beekeepers representing the major national and state beekeeping organizations. Four scientific advisors review research proposals and provide recommendations to the board." (Among the long-term advisors: Extension apiculturist (now emeritus) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.)"

Unfortunately, California is deep in the throes of a four-year drought. 

As Heintz notes in her current newsletter:  "Last year, we sadly reported that the drought had prevented or delayed emergence of much of our pre-almond bloom flowering plants.  This year, though the drought continues, we can happily report we are on target in many areas, with some rain falling at the right time so bees are enjoying planted forage during the usual pre-almond dearth."

Meanwhile, explore the Project Apis m. website: lots of information about what this organization is doing and what it hopes to do.

Two bees heading for the same almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two bees heading for the same almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Two bees heading for the same almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A University of California researcher in a Capay Valley almond orchard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A University of California researcher in a Capay Valley almond orchard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A University of California researcher in a Capay Valley almond orchard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, February 19, 2015 at 5:22 PM

Bee Health: That's What It's All About

Christina Grozinger
"Bee health" is on the minds of beekeepers, scientists, farmers, growers, gardeners, environmentalists and generally, everyone who cares about bees. Which should be everyone.

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 queen and her colony. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A queen and her colony. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A queen and her colony. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 at 4:20 PM

Eight Decades of Bees 'n Skeeters

Quick! What do you think of when someone mentions "honey bees and mosquitoes" in the same sentence?

Honey bees are the pollinators, the beneficial insects. Infected mosquitoes transmit killer diseases such as malaria and dengue; they are our most dangerous insect enemies on the planet.  

But, in a way, sometimes an apiculturist and a medical entomologist come together when they are honored for their decades of service to the University of California.

Take Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen, a bee guy, and medical entomologist William K. Reisen, a mosquito guy. Both retired last summer--Mussen after 38 years of service to UC, and Reisen, after 35 years of service. Between them, however, their length of service totals 82 years. That's because Reisen earlier served with the U.S. Air Force for three years and with the University of Maryland for six years.

Fittingly, both are receiving well-deserved honors for their accomplishments. Mussen's latest award was from the Almond Board of California for 38 years of meritorious service. Reisen's latest award is from the Mosquito Vector Control Association of California (MVCAC) for 35 years of meritorious service.

Reisen was nominated for the 2015 meritorious service award by the Contra Costa MVCAC District for "his special and significant contributions to the field of mosquito and vector control."

"Dr. Reisen's career spans over forty years during which he has published over 260 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters in the field of medical entomology," wrote nominator Craig Downs, general manager of the Contra Costa MVCAC District.

"Throughout his career, Bill has directed projects studying the vector competence of mosquitoes for newly introduced viruses, established new surveillance testing paradigms, and initiated complex interactive networks, sharing surveillance data with mosquito control agencies and public health officials to speed mosquito control response times and to minimize disease risk to humans. Several examples of his continual scientific contributions include: the effects of climate variation on arthropod-borne pathogen transmission, modeling efforts for predicting arbovirus risk, the application of insecticides for reducing the disease burden of West Nile virus in California, the use of liquid suspension array technologies for the identification of mosquito blood meals and his keen observation of the role of stagnant swimming pools as breeding sites for Culex spp. vectors in Sacramento County.”

Internationally known for his mosquito research and publications spanning more than four decades, Reisen is now  professor emeritus, Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology (PMI), School of Veterinary Medicine and serves as the editor of the Journal of Medical Entomology. He is a former director of the Center for Vectorborne Diseases (CVEC), comprised of researchers throughout the state and based on the UC Davis campus. Throughout his UC Davis career, Reisen has advised many graduate students affiliated with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, PMI or CVEC.  He is currently assisting four doctoral candidates and one master's degree candidate.

Reisen is one of only three UC recipients of this statewide award since 1981. William C. Reeves (1916-2004), UC Berkeley emeritus professor of epidemiology, received the award in 1981 and Bruce F. Eldridge, former director of the statewide UC Mosquito Research Program, based at UC Davis, and now professor emeritus of entomology,  received the award in 1997.

Mussen's latest award is an engraved clock from the Almond Board of California. In presenting him with the coveted award, Robert "Bob" Curtis, associate director of Agricultural Affairs, Almond Board of California, told him: "Eric, we honor your service as a Cooperative Extension Apiculture Specialist. Your leadership has been invaluable to both the almond and beekeeping communities as the authoritative and trusted source for guidance on research, technical, and practical problem solving and issues facing both industries.  Even now in your retirement you have been instrumental in the development of Honey Bee Best Management Practices for Almonds and extending this information to all pollination stakeholders."

For 38 years, Mussen served as a university liaison, Scientific Advisory Board member, reviewer of research proposals and a designated speaker for the Almond Board of California. As an emeritus, he continues some of that involvement. In addition to his many duties, for 38 years Mussen wrote and published the bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, and Bee Briefs, providing beekeepers with practical information on all aspects of beekeeping. The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) last year honored him with the Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Extension. 

Mussen, who joined the UC Davis department in 1976, became known throughout the state, nation and world as “the honey bee guru” and “the pulse of the bee industry" and as "the go-to person" when consumers, scientists, researchers, students, and the news media have questions about honey bees. (The new Extension apiculturist is Elina Niño from Pennsylvania State University. Check out her engaging and informative lab website.)

Mussen and Reisen may be far apart in their choice of insects to study, but they are close together in their commitment, dedication and passion that marked their phenomenal careers.

Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen with his engraved clock from the Almond Board of California. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen with his engraved clock from the Almond Board of California. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen with his engraved clock from the Almond Board of California. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Medical entomologist William Reisen (left) with a MVCAC plaque presented by Bruce Eldridge, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology. (Photo by Jill Oviatt, MVCAC)
Medical entomologist William Reisen (left) with a MVCAC plaque presented by Bruce Eldridge, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology. (Photo by Jill Oviatt, MVCAC)

Medical entomologist William Reisen (left) with a MVCAC plaque presented by Bruce Eldridge, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology. (Photo by Jill Oviatt, MVCAC)

Posted on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 at 4:16 PM

From A (Almond) to B (Bee)

Stephanie Hsia
This is a story about honey bees, almonds and a Harvard gradate student who is passionate about pollinators.

Stephanie Hsia, a master of landscape architecture candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), has just created a marvelous 46-page digital story, http://almondandbee.com, which she plans to turn into a book.  It's about the spatial relationship between the almond tree and the honey bee over time.

"I was inspired to create socially engaging and ecologicalperformative places and hope to bring my passion for enhancing natural systems to the urban environment," said Stephanie, who holds a master in environmental science and management from UC Santa Barbara's Bren School of Environmental Science and Management.  Before enrolling at Harvard, she worked in  environmental consulting and at urban ecology and watershed non-profits. 

Her passion for pollinators extends to keeping bees on the rooftop of her school building.

A little bit more about Stephanie: Her interest in entomology first peaked when she was an undergraduate student. "During one of my summers, I had the opportunity to work at a lab studying wasp behavior and butterfly learning. I would sit in large cages with wasps, and note how they would react to different stimuli (e.g., caterpillars in leaf shelters, leaf shelters with frass, etc). We also ran experiments watching butterflies forage to see if they could learn to prefer a different flower color based on nectar reward."

"As a designer, I developed an interest in pollination during my second semester at the Harvard Graduate School of Design--I used the idea of pollination to attract people and pollinators to a park redesign, and developed a planting palette and a promenade that would do so."

Stephanie  became interested in almonds in early 2014 while developing a grant application. The grant funded her travel through California almond orchards in May 2014.  She spent a week in "almond country." She met with experts at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, the Almond Board, the Blue Diamond Cooperative, beekeepers, almond farmers and almond farmers who also kept bees in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.

One of the people she met was pollination ecologist Neal Williams, associate professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He filled her on his research and offered tips on people to meet and places to see.

"I also took a helicopter ride in Fresno County to shoot aerial images of the almond orchards," Stephanie said. "I'm scared of heights, so I was a bit worried about this part of the trip, but it was really worth it, and not quite so scary when you experience the ride through the lens of a camera!"

"The shape of the project developed during my fall 2014 semester. I thought an illustrated story would allow me to combine my photographs, maps, and drawings, with found historical images in an engaging and accessible form.  I would like the story to reach a wide audience, so developing a visually interesting project was very important.  We've built this expansive and what is essentially a massive bee infrastructure that is very surprising. The story is about how that came to be, but it's also an argument for holistic thinking in agriculture that could be both cultural and economically significant."

Stephanie said she started learning  about beekeeping in fall 2013, "but really started to keep bees when I took over as the head of the GSD bees group at the school in spring 2014." The small group of students has kept bees on the rooftop "for a few years now," she notes. "It was a steep learning curve, but so rewarding, and I'm keeping my fingers cross that the bees make it through this tough winter!"

When you access the first page of http://almondandbee.com, two key sentences coax you to read more: "The almond and the bee. The spatial relationship of the orchard, bee, and dwelling through time."

Almonds and bees need each other, she points out. Almonds are the first California crop to bloom "when honey bee colonies numbers are at their lowest." Today California's has more than 900,000 acres. Each acre requires two bee colonies for pollination. And every year some 1.6 million colonies, or approximately 60 percent of the nation's colonies, are trucked to California.

"California almonds are exported to more than 80 countries, making it the most valuable and profitable specialty agricultural export in the U.S.," she writes.

"The relationship between almond growers and migratory beekeepers are in many ways analogous to that of the fruit tree and the bee—one is sedentary and one is mobile, but both depend on one another," Stephanie writes.

In her digital story, she traces the modern history of the honey bee, touches on traditional beekeeping methods, mentions the invention of the Langsroth hive in 1851, and takes a peek at the future of beekeeping and almond orchards.

It's an informative, creative and well-designed story.

Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at 5:44 PM

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