Apis mellifera, the European honey bee, has been devastated by the Varroa destructor mite in the United States since the 1980s. In response to the ensuing global honey bee crisis, entomology departments throughout the world shifted gears toward advancing honey bee biology and behavioral research. In 2019 researchers discovered a “game changer,” which brought new insights to this vital pollinator insect.
BG Bees LLC is proud to bring together three world-renowned honey bee researchers to discuss three keys to honey bee stress:
An understanding of these areas goes a long way to reducing colony losses. The days of focusing on honey extraction alone are in the past; in today’s honey bee environment, the apiarist must assimilate a variety of factors, and having a clear grasp of these three key stressors eases the beekeeper’s fears and decreases the colony’s losses.
USDA, Bee Research Laboratory: Beltsville, MD
Samuel Ramsey, PhD has been a lifelong entomologist. His interests in all things insects started in his youth–and included both his parents’ encouragement as well as his siblings’ displeasure! He continued his studies at Cornell and just recently completed his PhD at the University of Maryland under Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp.
Dr. Ramsey made headlines earlier this year with the publication of his doctoral research on the feeding behaviors of the Varroa destructor mite on the honey bee. Dr. Ramsey studied what was thought to be a closed subject and proved that the Varroa was not feeding primarily on the bee’s blood, but rather a liver-like organ called the ‘Fat Body’.
Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology
Montana State University
Michelle Flenniken, PhD is an assistant professor in the Plant Sciences Department at Montana State University. She is a microbiologist investigating honey bee host-pathogen interactions, and she also serves as a co-director of the Pollinator Health Center at MSU. Flenniken received a BS in Biology from the University of Iowa and worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana before obtaining her PhD in Microbiology from Montana State University. She did postdoctoral research at the University of California, San Francisco prior to becoming a faculty member at MSU.
Her projects in the lab focus on five principle aspects of honey bee biology: determining the mechanisms and contributions of RNA-triggered pathways in honey bee antiviral defense; honey bee pathogen monitoring, detection and discovery with an emphasis on pathogens associated with colony losses (including CCD); investigating the pathogenesis of the recently discovered Lake Sinai viruses; understanding the influence of the individual bee microbiome, metabolome, and transcriptome on the immune response and outcome of infections; and examining the sub lethal effects of agrochemicals on honey bee health. Honey bees are an excellent model in which to investigate immune mechanisms at both the individual bee and entire colony level.
Research Molecular Biologist
USDA, Honey Bee Research: Tucson, AZ
The common goal uniting Corby-Harris’s research is understanding the ecological and physiological mechanisms that enable organisms to respond to their environment. Honey bees are a fantastic study system for understanding such mechanisms and for applying what is learned because their populations are experiencing a period of rapid decline. Poor nutrition is a major factor underlying honey bee colony losses and areas of rich native vegetation where honey bees can forage are in shorter supply every day. To improve honey bee nutrition and colony survival it is certainly important to increase the number of these natural foraging sites, but we must also identify other methods to mitigate malnutrition in spite of landscape fragmentation and loss. The causes and consequences of poor nutrition are complex and the solutions to these problems will require the intersection of many approaches.
Corby-Harris, PhD uses a diverse set of tools from the worlds of insect physiology, genomics, microbiology, molecular biology, and evolutionary ecology to study nutritional stress in honey bees. Some of her most recent projects are centered on how nutritional stress at early life stages impacts aspects of colony performance such as nursing ability and immunity and how the bacteria naturally found in the hive and passed through feeding behaviors impact larval and whole colony health. She hopes to translate what is learned from these projects into methods that increase colony health and buffer bee populations against environmental stressors.
Vanessa graduated from North Carolina State with a B.S. in Animal Science and then from the University of Georgia with a Ph.D. in Genetics. She then moved to Tucson for an NIH postdoctoral fellowship working on insulin signaling, immunity, and nutrition in mosquitoes. This piqued her interest in nutrition and physiology and she continues working on these topics today. She is now a Research Physiologist at the ARS’s Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, where she was recently named the Pacific West Area’s Early Career Scientist of the Year for 2019. Her current projects include how stress influences honey bee physiology and development and how nutrition might offer a way to counteract the negative effects of stress on individuals and the hive.