4-18-19: We’ll be holding a 1-day workshop, “Honey bee health for the veterinarian,” at Betterbee (Greenwich, NY) on June 1st. You must obtain antibiotic prescriptions for your bees from veterinarian… yet few veterinarians are trained in honey bee biology and disease management. This workshop is meant to fill that gap! Details can be found here.

10-10-18: If you’ve visited our site over the past few months, you’ve noticed that we’ve switched to Twitter for posting most of our news and updates. We will still post occasional updates here on the lab blog. But check us out on Twitter for more frequent updates!

4-4-18: Our new LCMS is installed and open for business! This coincided with moving the Cornell Chemical Ecology Core Facility to shared space in the Entomology Department. Excited to see the improvement over the old machine…. all indications so far are that it’s a REALLY nice improvement. This is excellent news for pesticide residue analyses, as well as other applications such as plant/insect hormones and plant secondary metabolite analyses.

Nico with our new toy: a Thermo TSQ Quantis triple quadrupole LCMS.

3-10-18: Lab retreat 2018 is in the books! A nasty snowstorm kept us out of Tug Hill, but we still found plenty of outdoor and indoor activities to keep us occupied in Ithaca!

Lab retreat 2018: First there was sledding…

Then there was skiing…

And finally, salsa dancing, of course!

3-1-18: A neat paper from Kaitlin’s Masters is receiving some press. Here’s an article from BBC News describing her finding that several species of hoverflies can carry “honey bee viruses,” including black queen cell virus (BQCV), sacbrood virus (SBV) and deformed wing virus strain B (DWV-B). Watch for Kaitlin’s commentary on this paper in the May issue of American Bee Journal!

Kaitlin hard at work on her dissertation field work last summer!

2-3-18: Paige and Kass returned recently from an excellent workshop on Lasioglossum (Dialictus) identification by Jason Gibbs at the University of Minnesota. Here’s their report and some pictures:

Paige and Kass felt a warm welcome from the folks at UMN’s Bee Lab and spent several marvelous days gathered with 12 other bee enthusiasts around microscopes, riffling through keys, and cheerfully but hotly debating clypeal angles, mesepisternal rugosity, and tergal punctation. There was even time to hear Jason Gibbs give an outreach talk, and to play a rousing game of trivia under the team name the “Notorious Bee ID.” Kass and Paige aren’t quite ready to claim Gibbs-level expertise, but they no longer can dismiss the Dialictus as “a bunch of little black bees,” and instead find themselves with strong opinions about the “gestalt of a L. versatum,” strategies for parsing out individuals in the L. viridatum group (very important in our eastern orchard communities), and can hold forth on the vastly different scutal punctation of bees such as L. pruinosum and L. lineatulum.

Kass enjoying the finer details of Lasioglossum identification.

Paige receiving a student presentation award from Jason Gibbs.

Bees in the genus Lasioglossum are very abundant in the northeastern US and notoriously difficult to identify. Here’s one under the scope.

12-29-17: Happy almost 2018! Here’s some press on our Proceedings B paper regarding fungicides and US bumble bee declines from The Wildlife SocietyThe Guardian and NPR.

11-28-17: Testifying at the NYS Assembly on our progress with pollinator health research and extension. Very proud to be living in a state that’s listening and devoting resources to help our pollinators.

11-15-17: New paper in Proceedings B showing that fungicides are the best predictor of US bumble bee declines. Yes, neonics and other insecticides were included in this analysis. Perhaps we need to think a bit more broadly about all the potential stresses that are impacting bees. Knowing the relative importance of stresses is critical for prioritizing conservation strategies… And other than Varroa, we still have a ways to go in terms of understanding the relative importance of these stresses.

11-8-17: ESA Denver is in the books. Great talks by Nelson, Kass and Laura, and a great poster by Ashley. And… Laura won the student presentation award for her talk on Crithidia transmission at flowers!

10-31-17: Happy bee parasite Halloween! Varroa, DWV, Crithidia, Ascosphaera and even a giant Praying Mantis…. Scary.

10-26-17: Insectapalooza is this Saturday (10/28) from 9am-3pm. We’re excited to see you!

10-16-17: Our 2016 Tech Team pesticide report is out. Thanks to Nico for quantifying pesticide residues from hundreds of wax samples and Mary Kate for taking lead on analyzing data and writing much of the report!

10-9-17: After a very fun (and exhausting!) field season, we’re back in the lab. This weekend, 53 veterinarians took part in the Honey Bee Track during the 2017 NYS Veterinary Conference. Below is a picture of us talking about AFB and EFB at the Dyce lab. After the lecture, we spent some time outside handling bees. We’re looking forward to helping vets with honey bee curriculum and continuing education in the coming years. Including honey bees in the Veterinary Feed Directive is a good thing long-term for “herd health” of bees and minimizing antibiotic resistance!

Discussing AFB and EFB at the Dyce lab during the 2017 NYS Veterinary conference.

8-20-17: Welcome to the lab, Aaron Iverson and Timothy Salazar! Aaron is a postdoc leading the fungicide-insecticide interaction project (also known as our strawberry project). Timothy is a new PhD student who is co-advised by myself and Steve Ellner. Timothy is interested in theory and modeling of disease transmission among bees.

6-26-17: Here’s a recent article in the Cornell Chronicle about the newly formed NYS Beekeeper Tech Team. One of our first major findings: Varroa was a big problem among New York beekeepers last fall. 78% of operations sampled had Varroa levels that were above the economic threshold and 100% of operations had detectable levels of Deformed Wing Virus, which is vectored by Varroa and often a significant factor predicting colony losses. We need to get better at controlling Varroa in New York. That’s why we’ve initiated a citizen science project this year to further understand the scope of the problem and find out what is and isn’t working in terms of controlling Varroa here in New York.

6-24-17: Happy pollinator week! Two recent pollinator-friendly events from our lab… First, we completed a very fun queen rearing workshop for 24 NYS beekeepers (and one Vermonter). The workshop was co-instructed by Craig Olds (professional queen rearer from Ruby Bay, NZ), Brian Evans (professional NYS queen rearer working with Eric Sprout), Emma Mullen and Scott McArt. Already looking forward to next year’s workshop!

Craig holds our first batch of 2017 queen cells. These queens were mated and most will be distributed to our queen rearing workshop participants, while some will be enrolled in trials for our NIH-funded project that’s investigating pathogen transmission among bees.

Also, Kass has been busy with a neat outreach project. In an evening workshop held with Groundswell’s Center for Food and Farming, she discussed bees, trees, and how trees support bees with food resources, habitat, and even underappreciated resources like “self-medication” via resin collection. This was a great chance for growers, agroforesters, citizens, and bee enthusiasts to identify common management goals, while learning fun and exciting information about bee diversity. After discovering how wild bee visits connect “networks” of crops, wild plants, and useful trees, they explored the ways that access to robust pollination services is a form of food justice.

Kass giving expert advice on pollinators and pollination at the Groundswell Center for Food and Farming event.

5-18-17: Kaitlin is already getting some press from Channel 10 News in Rochester for her project investigating how agricultural vs. suburban vs. natural areas in New York are impacting wild bee diversity and pathogen prevalence.

5-8-17: Sally and Lauren present their fantastic senior theses in the EEB and Ento symposiums! Sally’s thesis investigated how functional traits of wild bees were related to pathogen prevalence, while Lauren developed a trait-based mathematical model to predict pathogen transmission in plant-pollinator networks. It’s been a privilege to have these bright women in the lab for the past couple years… Will be sad to see them move on, but I can’t wait to watch the next steps in their careers!

Left to right: Lauren Truitt, Scott (proud advisor), Sally Compton and Laura Figueroa

4-21-17: New paper out on pesticide risk to honey bees during apple pollination. This study was recently featured in the Cornell Chronicle. Many thanks to the numerous people who helped with this project, including the 30 apple growers who allowed us to use their land, Chuck Kutik for supplying us with bees, and Ted Elk for helping move 120 hives to all 30 orchards!

4-6-17: Welcome to the lab, Pete Graystock! Pete brings his substantial expertise in bee pathogens and symbionts to our EEID project studying microbe transmission in diverse communities of bees.

3-29-17: The 2016 NYS Beekeeper Tech Team report is out! This is the first year of results from the Tech Team, which is comprised of Emma Mullen (honey bee extension associate), Mary Kate Wheeler (agricultural economist), Paul Cappy (NYS apiculturist) and myself (science advisor). We’re working hard and are very excited to improve honey bee health in NYS!

1-26-17: Welcome to the lab, Nico and Kaitlin! Nico is starting as a research associate in the lab, and will play a major role in taking our pesticide work to the next level. Kaitlin is starting a PhD and is interested in understanding factors driving declines of native pollinator species.

11-22-16: Congratulations to Giuseppe Tumminello (SUNY ESF) for a successful Masters defense! Giuseppe’s thesis described a remarkably diverse fauna of bees (55 species!) in willow biomass crop plantings.

11-7-16: Very nice visit with Nigel Raine from the University of Guelph, who gave this term’s Griswold lecture.

10-22-16: Insectapalooza 2016 was a success!

img_24259-30-16: Laura and Scott give presentations at the International Congress of Entomology meeting in Orlando, FL. And we also snuck in a quick visit with Kaitlin to see the real Florida (aka non-Disney)!

8-24-16: Sometimes you need to take break from research for a few hours… like when you need to steal honey from your bees. Thanks very much to Jon Ryan for letting us use his honey house (built in 1912!) for an afternoon… and to our bees for being so unwittingly generous. Below, Emma shows Kassie, Jon and Dave how to load the extractor:

Emma extracting

8-16-16: Final details are coming together regarding our research and extension parts of the NYS Pollinator Protection Plan. Things will be busy with sampling in September, and we’re very happy to be teaming up with the Bee Informed Partnership tech team in this endeavor.

7-18-16: Laura gives an excellent presentation on pathogen prevalence in plant-pollinator networks at the 2016 International Conference on Pollinator Biology, Health and Policy at Penn State. Very impressive for a 1st-year PhD student to be in a symposium with faculty and postdocs and more than hold her own!

6-30-16: It’s official… we received a very nice grant from NIH to study disease transmission in complex communities of bees. We’re greatly looking forward to working with Lynn Adler, Becky Irwin, Steve Ellner, Quinn McFrederick and Chris Myers on this project over the next 5 yrs!

4-22-16: Video update on “Assessing the impact of pesticides on honey bee health in New York”, compliments of Emma Mullen:

3-30-16: WOW! Laura receives a prestigious 3-year NSF GRFP fellowship to study pathogen transmission in plant-pollinator networks. At the same time, Kassie Urban-Mead and Kaitlin Deutsch, who will be starting in our PhD program this fall and winter, respectively, also receive GRFPs. Congratulations!! This is a huge accomplishment and a testament to our impressive grad students who are working on pollinators!

3-26-16: Scott gives a seminar on factors influencing bee declines at the SUNY-ESF Adaptive Peaks seminar series. A very nice visit with our neighbors up north in Syracuse.

2-13-16: Project update on “Assessing the impact of pesticides on honey bee health in New York”

By Scott McArt

During summer 2015, my lab initiated a large field study to understand the relative importance of pesticides, pathogens/parasites, diet and the surrounding landscape on performance of honey bee colonies in New York. We are fortunate to be supported in this endeavor by two grants: one from the New York Farm Viability Institute (NYFVI) and one from the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC).

Since the project started we have given four public updates: a presentation at the November Empire State Honey Producer’s Association (ESHPA) meeting, two presentations at NY Apiary Industry Advisory Committee (AIAC) meetings and a presentation at the October NAPPC meeting at the Department of Interior in Washington, DC. We will be giving further updates at AIAC and ESHPA meetings during 2016. For anyone who is interested but cannot attend, I will post occasional updates here.

The experiment

In April 2015, a large-scale controlled field study was initiated. One hundred and twenty nucleus honey bee colonies were purchased and transferred into standard beekeeping equipment at the Dyce Lab for Honey Bee Studies at Cornell University. Four colonies were brought into each of 30 apple orchards in western and central NY during bloom thanks to excellent transportation help from a commercial beekeeper, Ted Elk. A project manager, Sarah Bluher, was hired from the USDA national honey bee lab to oversee assessment and sampling of the colonies throughout the summer. Sarah was helped primarily by three people throughout the summer – Lauren Truitt (Cornell undergraduate), Ben Losey (high school student) and Ashley Fersch (lab technician).

We sampled pollen from all 120 colonies before and after pollination, and every 3 weeks throughout the summer. Each sample of pollen is currently being analyzed for its identity (e.g. proportion apple vs. other pollens) and pesticide residues. We quantified Varroa mite levels in each colony in August and October. We sampled bees for pathogens (quantitative molecular assessments of five viruses and Nosema ceranae) four times throughout the summer. Each time we visited the colonies we performed hive inspections and quantified the amount of honey, pollen, bees and brood as metrics of colony performance. Pathogen analyses are being conducted by a collaborating lab at the University of Maryland. Pollen identification is being conducted in our lab and we are almost done establishing our multi-residue pesticide detection capabilities in the Cornell Chemical Ecology Core Facility (CCECF), at which point we will quantify the 30 most important pesticides in our pollen samples (see Fig. 1).


Fig. 1. Pesticide use index across the 30 apple sites where hives were located. Pesticide use index is a metric that combines the identity and quantity of pesticides sprayed at each site, along with their known toxicity to honey bees. We are developing our multi-residue pesticide analysis to detect the 30 most important compounds according to the pesticide use index data gathered during our study. Sites are not labeled to ensure grower anonymity.

What will this tell us?

The goal of this project is simple: understand the relative importance of pesticides, pathogens/parasites, diet and the surrounding landscape on performance of honey bee colonies in New York (Fig. 2).


Fig. 2. Conceptual diagram of the experiment. The design will allow us to understand the relative importance of pesticides, pathogens/parasites, diet and landscape variables for predicting colony performance across the 30 sites in New York where we placed 120 experimental honey bee hives.

Our data will be entered into a statistical model that will allow us to say which of these variables is most important for predicting the performance of colonies across the 30 sites in our study. We are measuring colony performance in several ways, including growth and size of the colonies, as well as proportion of colonies surviving at each site. To date, we have observed 17.5% loss of colonies (Fig. 3). We expect losses of several additional colonies throughout the winter.

Prop survive

Fig. 3. Proportion of colonies surviving in November across the 30 apple sites. The experiment lost 17.5% of colonies by November, which is approximately average summer colony loss rate in NY for the past 10 yrs. Winter losses will be assessed in April 2016.

What will we do next?

Results from the analysis of the first year’s data will guide what we pursue in year two of the project. For example, if pesticides are found to be significant a predictor of colony performance and/or loss, we will test the importance of individual compounds or combinations of compounds via manipulative experiments (e.g. dosing frame feeders with pesticides and comparing the performance of the treated colonies with performance of colonies that have a sucrose control frame feeder). If diet is found to be a significant predictor of performance, we will test its importance via nutritional manipulations. These follow-up experiments will allow us to understand in greater detail the impact of important factors for bee health in New York.

Most importantly, we aim to make recommendations for beekeepers regarding the most important factors to consider for maintaining productive honey bee colonies in New York. From this experiment, we will be able to say whether pesticides, pathogens/parasites, diet, the surrounding landscape or specific combinations of these factors should be important considerations for New York beekeepers when deciding where to bring their bees for pollination, where to establish bee yards and how to manage for parasites/pathogens. This experiment will not answer every question, of course, but it will go a long way towards understanding the relative importance of several stressors that honey bees face in our state.