UC Davis Faculty, Staff to Offer Expertise at Bee Conference

Aug 23, 2017

Excitement is building for 40th annual Western Apicultural Society (WAS) conference, set Sept. 5-8 at the University of California, Davis, its birthplace. The non-profit educational organization, geared for small-scale beekeepers in the western United States or those just interested in bees, is headed by president Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, of UC Davis.

The conference takes place in the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) and also will include tours to the Department of Entomology and Nematology's Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility and its adjacent Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, as well as sojourns to Woodland to see the Mann Lake LTD facility (beekeeping supplies), and Z Specialty Food.

"The speakers are from throughout the country and also from Canada," Mussen says.  Among the speakers: Kim Flottum of Medina, Ohio, editor of Bee Culture; Les Crowder of Austin, Texas, author of Top-Bar Beekeeping; Gene Brandi of Los Banos, president of the American Beekeeping Federation; Larry Connor of Kalamazoo, Mich., author and beekeeper; Rod Scarlett, executive director, Canadian Honey Council, and Slava Strogolov, chief executive officer of Strong Microbials Inc., Milwaukee.

UC Davis will be well represented, Mussen points out, noting that "we have widespread and varied expertise covering everything from honey bees and native bees to honey tasting and bee gardening."

Four UC Davis faculty members will address the crowd on Thursday morning, Sept. 7:

  • Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño will speak on “Impact of Varroa on Honey Bee Reproductive Castes): Where Will the Research Lead Us?” at at 8:30 a.m. The three reproductive castes are the queen and worker bee (female), and drone (male).
  • Associate professor Brian Johnson will speak on “Geographical Distribution of Africanized Bees in California” 9 a.m.,  He will show “the results of a genotyping study of bees caught from across California showing the current distribution of Africanized Honey Bees in our state."
  • Distinguished emeritus professor Robbin Thorp, a native pollinator specialist, will discuss “Life Cycles of Commonly Encountered Native Bee Genera" at 10:30 a.m.  He is the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: an Identification Guide and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.
  • Professor Neal Williams, a pollination ecologist, will discuss “Known and Potential of Native Bees in Crop Pollination” at 11 a.m.

It's good to see native bees sharing space with honey bees at the conference and to see Neal Williams and Robbin Thorp in the line-up.  Williams, promoted to full professor this year, will discuss his applied research, which, he explains, "addresses the integration of wild and managed bees for pollination of diverse agricultural crops including seed production, row crops and orchards." Williams adds: "This research addresses as series inter-related questions. Under what contexts, in terms of local management and landscape context, can native pollinators provide sufficient pollination for different crops? How can we enhance habitat and diversify agricultural systems to promote managed and wild bees? Do pollinators like honey bees and wild bees interact in ways to increase the overall effectiveness of crop pollination? The answers to these questions helps alleviate the stress placed on honey bees and also informs ways to more sustainably manage agricultural systems to promote biodiversity and production."

Robbin Thorp, an international expert on bumble bees and other native bees, retired from UC Davis in 1994 after 30 years of teaching entomology and pollination biology courses and conducting research on bees as pollinators of crop plants. "The primary focus was on honey bees in almond, but I also studied native bees as pollinators of various crops and in natural ecosystems such as vernal pools," he says. Since retirement, he continues to conduct research, primarily on native bees and to do outreach education on bees. He is  currently teaching at The Bee Course, a 10-day workshop sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History and held every year in the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz.  One of the longtime faculty, he has annually taught at the Bee Course since 2002.

The WAS conference also will feature a trip on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 7 to the UC Davis bee biology facility, appropriately located on Bee Biology Road. That's when several UC Davis faculty or staff, along with beekeeper/scientist Randy Oliver of Grass Valley, will staff a total of five education stations from 1 to 4 p.m. at either the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility or the bee garden. Staff research associate Bernardo Niño will discuss various beehive iterations; Randy Oliver will cover how to determine various levels of nosema and varroa infestations; Brian Johnson will explain how to prepare honey bees for the molecular study of Africanized honey bees; and Christine Casey, staff manager of the department's half-acre Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, will discuss what to plant in a bee garden and how to maintain it. 

In addition, Casey will lead a tour of the haven at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 6. “The haven is a unique outdoor museum designed to educate visitors about bees and the plants that support them," Casey says. "Tour participants will see some of our 85 bee and 200 plant species, learn about our outreach and research programs, and gain ideas for their own bee gardens."

On Friday, Sept. 8, Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen will moderate a panel on “Pesticide Toxicity Testing with Adult and Immature Honey Bees.” The panel will convene at 9:15 a.m. Then at 1:30 on Friday, assistant professor Rachel Vannette of UC Davis will discuss “Variation in Nectar Quality Influence Pollinator Foraging." She studies floral nectar chemistry and microbiology and examines how these characteristics of flowers mediate interactions between plants and pollinators

Other UC Davis highlights involve honey tasting and 40-year-old memories:

Honey Tasting: Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, UC Davis, will lead a moderated honey tasting at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 6.  The event is titled “Taste the Honey Flavors of the West: How Understanding the Nuances of your Honey Can Help You Market your Perfect Sweet.” Said Harris: "Basically, I plan to discuss the diversity and life styles of non-Apis bees to show how different most are from honey bees."

40-Year-Old Memories: The founders of WAS will reminisce on "how it all began" from 8:45 to 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 6. The organization, founded at UC Davis, was the brainchild of Norm Gary, then professor of apiculture (now emeritus), who served as the founding WAS president. Assisting him were Eric Mussen, then an Extension apiculturist, who accepted the office of vice president; and postdoctoral fellow Becky Westerdahl, now the Extension nematologist in the department, elected secretary-treasurer.

More information on the conference, including the complete schedule, is available from the WAS website or contact Eric Mussen at ecmussen@ucdavis.edu. Registration is underway at http://www.westernapiculturalsociety.org/2017-conference-registration/