LSU AgCenter and USDA partner to study honeybees

LSU AgCenter and USDA partner to study honeybees

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A collaboration between the LSU AgCenter and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is studying honeybees right in LSU's backyard.

"Honeybees are incredibly important. Actually, one out of every three bites of food that we eat rely on honeybees or bees in general for pollination," said Kristen Healy, an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology, LSU AgCenter.

Healy said the honeybee population is decreasing.

"Generally, we see more honeybee losses than we'd like to see on an annual basis," Healy said.

A new grant will help the entomologists study how stress factors impact honeybees. They are working with researchers at the USDA Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Unit in Baton Rouge and the largest beekeeper in the country to do a two-year study following 400 hives.

"This collaboration has allowed us to look at multiple stressors. So, between the two groups, we can look at things like how pesticides, pathogens, and viruses effect honey bees," Healy said. "The ultimate goal is to be able to one, understand how different stressors impact honeybees but then also to predict adverse health outcomes in bees. So, we have different models we're developing, maybe if we can determine early in the season there's going to be adverse health outcomes in honeybees, then we can prevent that and maybe implement certain control strategies."

The experts with the USDA said summer is an important time for their research.

"The biggest things in the summer to think about is really their disease and mite level. So, the biggest thing that's impacting bee health is a parasitic mite called Varroa destructor. It's a great name right? This parasitic mite transmits viruses and it really weakens the bees' immune system, so that if they're confronted with another disease or have poor nutrition, it can pretty much decimate a hive," said Michael Simone-Finstrom, a research molecular biologist with the USDA.

Simone-Finstrom said it's important to take care of the bees, even if you spot a hive where you live. If you find a hive on your property, the LSU AgCenter recommends calling an area beekeeper or the USDA Honey Bee Lab.

"The biggest thing is really creating that awareness that these bees aren't just visiting your flowers because they're pretty. This is their food. And honeybees are doing so much of the background work. Even if we think about how they indirectly make things. There is some contribution of pollinating alfalfa, which cows feed on for dairy production. If you don't have that bee pollination, not just honeybees but all pollinators, then you're kind of losing out on that production of dairy. There are all of these small indirect things that lead to really large effects," Simone-Finstrom said.

This summer, the LSU AgCenter is offering beginner beekeeper classes, for those looking to help the honeybee population, as well as enjoy their sweet honey.

"We're talking about bee breeds, bee biology, equipment, the various hive products. As well as managing the bees, pests and diseases that they face," said Keith Hawkins, an LSU AgCenter agent.

Both the USDA and LSU AgCenter are working to prevent diseases from impacting the important work of the bees.

"Service is actually a huge part of this. We're very excited to be a part of that at the local level, regional level and even a national level. We have parts of this grant designed to work with local beekeepers and hopefully provide them with important information that can help improve their hives. But then we have the partnership with the USDA, then we're looking at a national level too, not only local keepers, but those large-scale commercial keepers as well," Healy said.

Video credit: LSU

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