Four honey bee health graduate students were awarded $55K through PAm’s Christi Heintz Memorial Award in 2020. A year later, we are checking in to see how the first field season went for the awardees. “Christi would be so pleased and impressed with the students we have funded in her honor,” PAm Executive Director Danielle Downey said.
Rogan Tokach, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Awarded $10,000
Rogan Tokach studies how pesticide-contaminated food impacts a colony's ability to re-queen itself and individual bee development. Honey bees are often located in, or adjacent to, agricultural systems, where pesticides are used to manage pests but can impact honey bee health.
“I was able to complete two trials for both of the experiments I am working on,” Tokach said. “I did not have any huge surprises, but I had a fun time painting bees for my observational experiment as well as rearing queens for my other study."
Rogan is also active in the Extension activities of the UNL Bee Lab. “Working with other beekeepers and teaching the public about honey bees and their importance helps inspire me to continue my work with bees,” he said.
Tokach is planning to present some of his work at October’s Entomological Society of America meeting in Denver.
Advisor: Judy Wu-Smart and Autumn Smart, The University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Jesse Tabor, Utah State University, Awarded $20,000
An abundance of flowers is a foundation of bee health, as well as honey production. Jesse Tabor uses drones to study floral resource availability by mapping an area in fine detail. Each pixel in his images shows ½ cm of ground, and he can cover 80 acres in 30 minutes.
This granular look at landscapes will help beekeepers and bee researchers assess what quality of forage is available for bees. 2021 was a good season despite a few challenges that included learning the importance of flight planning, Tabor said.
“I have had to work around wind, clouds, rain, smoke, and fire which sometimes created small flight windows to collect data,” he said. “However, I was able to successfully collect all of my data!”
The current drought created challenges, too. “This summer many of the flowers were present for a much shorter period causing beekeepers to move their apiaries around more frequently looking for healthy bee forage,” he said.
Every flight yields between 15-20 gigabytes of information and Tabor said he’ll spend the winter analyzing it with a new supercomputer at USU.
Advisor: Jonathan Koch, United States Department of Agriculture, and Joseph Wilson, Utah State University
Abigail Chapman, University of British Columbia, Awarded $15,000
Abigail Chapman had a busy winter collecting pathogen data on failed queens provided by Canadian beekeepers to understand what happens when the queen’s physiological resources need to fight a pathogen. And how those diseases impact fertility and ultimately colony success.
Beekeepers are vocal about queen failure’s ties to colony collapse. Understanding the mechanisms of why queens are failing helps improve queen health, and possibly reduce future colony losses.
Abigail spent part of 2021 traveling in British Columbia and Alberta, collecting samples of queens and eggs to analyze.
“I’m really looking forward to this fall and winter when I can finally start analyzing all of the samples I've collected and hopefully find some interesting results,” Chapman said. “I just love getting to work with bees in and out of the lab - I find them endlessly fascinating and it's also so meditative working in the hives.”
Advisor: Leonard Foster, University of British Columbia
Michael Zabrodski, University of Saskatchewan, Awarded $10,000
American foulbrood is a devastating disease that often results in the destruction of colonies and equipment because it produces tough bacterial spores.
Veterinarian Michael Zabrodski is assessing the presence of these spores in honey samples from apiaries across Saskatchewan. He plans to use his research to develop a convenient AFB test for beekeepers and identify risk factors that make apiaries more prone to the disease.
“We tested approximately 495 honey samples collected in 2020 from 27 large-scale, commercial beekeepers, as well as 46 honey samples from 44 small-scale, part-time beekeepers,” he said.
The results of these tests were returned to beekeepers and used to help make evidence-based management decisions, he said. Armed with the information, some beekeepers may elect to stop using antibiotics in their operation, which in turn, he said, “May help reduce the industry's reliance on antibiotic use in a safe manner that maintains sustainable and profitable beekeeping operations.”
In June, Michael and his team presented their research in Saskatchewan at the Canadian Animal Health Laboratorians Network meeting where they won an award for the presentation at the Life and Sciences Research Expo.
“I am constantly impressed by our honey bees and their ability to overcome adversity, from the frigid winters of the Canadian prairies to the scorching hot summers,” he said. “This year was particularly dry for Saskatchewan with very little rainfall, yet our bees still managed to produce a record honey crop. It is remarkable.”
Advisor: Elemir Simko, University of Saskatchewan
Over 50 individuals and organizations, including Costco Canada and Project Apis m., gave generously to memorialize Christi Heintz and support the ongoing hard work of honey bee research. By funding student scholarships, industry leaders and individual stakeholders have invested in the future of honeybee health and science.