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Bees are not alone in their fight to survive. While the backyard beekeeper might start with a pollinator garden, researchers are also busy strengthening and shoring up these vulnerable organisms that are an essential part of our food ecosystem.

Jay Evans explains some promising efforts, telling listeners

  • What the main stressors for bees are, from diseases to pests,
  • Why protecting a middle-aged bee from stressors impacts the entire colony, and
  • What exciting new management strategies are in the works, including botanical medicines for bees.

Jay Evans is with the USDA ARS Bee Research Laboratory in Maryland. He and his colleagues are approaching bee health from every angle, assessing direct and indirect factors that increase bee health and lessening those that cause habitat harm. The list is long, from increasing nutrition to mitigating pesticide effects, parasites, and the spread of viruses.

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Often the best solutions provide a path for the bees to help themselves.

Evans and his group in particular work on bolstering the honey bee immune system. Just as humans find their health affected by stress, so do bees, from temperature changes to chemical stress to nest disturbances. These stresses makes the bees more vulnerable to direct threats like parasites and pathogens.

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Their close living quarters in the beekeeping industry make for further vulnerabilities.

Once a colony in an apiary is infected with a pathogen, it spreads fairly quickly through the apiary.

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Researchers like Evans are helping them tolerate those invasions and push the pathogens out over time. He describes some of the most promising efforts, from breeding for “varroa-sensitive hygiene” to developing disease-fighting medicines from botanical sources.

For more, see the USDA-ARS Bee Research Laboratory website.

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