Our goal is to promote the health of bee pollinators. Our primary research focus is on honey bees, ranging from basic studies on mechanisms of social behaviors to applied studies on bee breeding and management. We also study the abundance and diversity of native bee pollinators. We work as a team to provide the richest learning environment for students at all levels and from all backgrounds.
Recent PhD (2010), Mike Simone-Finstrom (funded by NSF IOS-0717530) initiated a series of new research projects on propolis, a complex mixture of resins that honey bees collect from some trees, such as poplar and birch in temperate regions. Bees collect the propolis on their hind legs and deposit it in the nest as a form of cement to seal cracks and to line the nest entrance and cavity. Propolis is widely known for its diverse antimicrobial properties and its value as a human medicine. Few studies have investigated the antimicrobial benefits of propolis to bees.
Mike's research focused on the evolutionary benefits of resin collection to honey bees, and the proximate mechanisms that regulate resin collection at the individual and colony-level. We have determined that propolis in the hive allows adult bees to invest less in individual immune function due to its ability to reduce overall bacterial loads in colonies. In this way propolis may reduce stress that bees are exposed to and may increase colony health. Other studies have shown that resin foragers are more sensitive to tactile information than other forager types, which may indicate that tactile cues are relevant in the initiation of resin foraging behavior. We have also recently documented that propolis use by honey bees may be a unique example of self-medication, since resin collection increases after challenge with a fungal parasite.
PhD student, Renata Borba (funded by NSF-IOS-0717530) is continuing the line of research on the benefits of propolis to bees’ immune system by taking her studies to her home country Brazil to study propolis in African-derived honey bees. This race of bees appears to be more resistant to diseases and parasites compared to European-derived honey bees in North America. Is propolis part of their defense? Renata will determine the relative effect of propolis on the immune system of African-derived bee colonies. This comparative study will shed light on ways we can improve the health of our European bees in the U.S.
PhD student, Mike Wilson, (advised by Dr. Jerry Cohen, Plant Biological Sciences, funded by College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resource Sciences) is studying the chemical components of plant resins from different botanical origins, and is identifying those components that are responsible for the biological activity against bee- and human-related bacteria. His research is focused on (1) using metabolic fingerprinting analysis to identify the plant sources of resin collected by foragers, (2) screening a botanically diverse propolis samples for growth inhibition of Paenibacillus larvae (a honey bee brood pathogen), and (3) using bioassay-guided separation to isolate active compounds in inhibitory propolis samples.
We are one of 17 institutional collaborators on a USDA-CAP grant, Sustainable Solutions to Problems Affecting Health of Managed Bees. Prime Award: Univ GA 20085530204471; Subaward: Univ. MN: RC293-502/3843658. The specific goals of the CAP are to 1) Determine and mitigate causes of Colony Collapse Disorder; 2) Incorporate traits that help honey bees resist pathogens and parasitic mites and increase genetic diversity of commercially available stocks; 3) Improve conservation and management of non-Apis pollinators; and 4) Deliver research knowledge to client groups an eXtension Community of Practice: http://www.extension.org/bee_health.
PhD student Mike Goblirsch is investigating the effects of the fungal pathogen, Nosema ceranae, on the developmental physiology of the honey bee. Nosema ceranae is an emerging pathogen of honey bees in many parts of the world, and is likely a factor in Colony Collapse Disorder. Mike is investigating the mechanism by which N. ceranae causes disease symptoms that lead to such outcomes as a premature-aging and a shortened life span.
We also are participating in the "Stationary Apiary Project" to determine the causes of death of untreated colonies maintained in one location year round. Read about it: (http://www.extension.org/pages/Honey_Bee_Medical_Records:_The_Stationary_Apiary_Monitoring_Project).
Finally we are working one-on-one with queen producers in MN certify the production of the MN Hygienic line, and with the California Bee Breeders Association to assist them with selection of resistance traits from among their tried-and-true stocks of bees. American Bee Journal
Two PhD students, Matthew Smart and Elaine Evans, are working on this project (funded by USDA-NIFA 2010-65615-20631: Influence of mid-continent land-use trends on floral diversity and pollen availability to sustain bee health, diversity and ecosystem). This is a collaborative project with Dr. Jeff Pettis of the USDA-ARS Bee Lab in Beltsville, MD, and with Dr. Ned "Chip" Euliss of the USGS in Jamestown, ND.
Matthew Smart is studying how varying agricultural and native landscapes during the summer in North Dakota affect honey bee nutritional physiology and immunology, and how these measures change through the winter when commercial honey bee colonies are moved to California for pollination. He is interested in understanding the flow of nutrients, particularly protein, in honey bee colonies and the relationships between landscape nutritional quality/availability and disease – and how this is manifested at the colony and individual bee levels.
Elaine Evans is examining the impact of agricultural intensity and other landscape factors on native bee abundance and diversity in North Dakota. The two main factors determining the value of different landscapes to bees are the presence of potential nesting sites and the presence of nutritional resources (pollen and nectar from flowering plants). The results from this research will be added to a model (EcoServ) that has been developed by researchers at the USGS for forecasting change in ecosystem services under alternate land-use and climate futures. This model can be used to predict landscapes that can best support native bee population.
Joel Gardner, M.S. student, is conducting a survey of native bees in the family Megachilidae at Lake Itasca, MN. Native bees such as these are important "background" pollinators of wildflowers and crops that do not receive intensive honey bee pollination. With increasing pressure on managed honey bees, pollination by native bees is becoming even more important, and it is important to understand as much as we can about these bees so informed steps can be taken towards their conservation. Joel will compare his findings with historical collections in order to draw conclusions about any changes in bee populations.
Our primary and long-term goal (M. Spivak and G. Reuter) is to help honey bees and beekeepers reduce the amount of antibiotics and pesticides used in beehives to control diseases and parasitic mites. We have been breeding bees for resistance to these maladies since 1993 with the aim of "getting bees back on their own six feet" to end their reliance on chemical treatments for survival. A reduction in the use of antibiotics and pesticides will reduce operating costs for beekeepers, while ensuring healthy, strong colonies for honey production and pollination, and the purity of honey, wax and other marketable bee products.
Hygienic behavior of honey bees is the main mechanism of resistance to the devastating bacterial disease, American foulbrood, and the fungal disease, chalkbrood. Hygienic bees detect and remove infected brood from the nest before the pathogen becomes infectious. In 1993, we began by breeding a line of honey bees for hygienic behavior with the goal of testing if the behavior is also an effective mechanism of resistance to the parasitic mite, Varroa destructor. Extensive field trials at the University and in collaboration with commercial beekeepers have shown that bees bred for hygienic behavior do detect and remove mite-infested worker brood, and colonies bred for the behavior have reduced mite loads compared to unselected control colonies.
Although our "MN Hygienic" line of bees is sold throughout the U.S., our current emphasis is helping beekeepers and bee breeders select for this and other resistance traits from among their own lines of bees. We are working closely with three Minnesota beekeepers to certify that their stocks are hygienic. Read about it: The future of the MN Hygienic stock of bees is in good hands!. We are also working one-on-one with members of the California Bee Breeders Association to help them select for disease and mite-resistance from among their tried-and-true stocks.
Our aim, which ties into the USDA-CAP project (see above) is to promote genetic diversity, resilience and healthy bees, and we feel that working directly with queen breeders is the best way to accomplish our goal.
PhD student, Judy Wu is working on this study with Dr. Vera Krischik (Department of Entomology, Univ MN; Funded by NC-SARE, LNC09-316, The role of imidacloprid systemic insecticide on colony collapse disorder of honey bees and decline of bumble bee pollinators). Judy is examining the translocation of systemic neonicotinoid (imidacloprid and thiomathoxam) into nectar and pollen from plants (canola) treated at seed, field, and landscape rates, and is determining at what levels these residues are found in stored nectar and pollen in honey bee hives. She is also examining the mechanisms and effects of neonicotinoid on learning, memory, foraging behavior, egg-laying rate and immune system functioning.