UC site covers breeding, colony collapse, pollination, other research


Capital Press

University of California researchers have launched a new website that's all about bees.

Beebiology.ucdavis.edu, highlights the work of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility in Davis, and is a one-stop site for information about honey bees and native bees.

The website shares the latest in bee breeding techniques, chronicles the devastation from colony collapse disorder and introduces the Haagen Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a bee-friendly garden set to open in October.

Orchardists and other farmers will appreciate its information on pollination and its links to various other sites such as the Almond Board of California, said Eric Mussen, an apiculturist for the UC's Cooperative Extension program and an instructor at UC-Davis.

"A lot of people have questions about honey bees that they'd like to have answered," Mussen said. "What we're attempting to do with this website is to make some of those answers ... immediately available. That's a work in progress."

The site will also follow bee breeder and geneticist Susan Cobey's quest to "build a better bee" that will be more resistant to pests and diseases, said Kathy Keatley-Garvey, communications specialist for UC-Davis' entomology department.

Cobey has been a leader in her field since the 1980s, when she developed a more pure strain of honey bees by back-crossing stocks collected from throughout the United States.

"Some of our other people are doing various and sundry other research" on bees, Garvey said.

"We hope to make it (the website) a really educational experience for people to come in and look at the honey bees and native bees, and become more aware of the plight of the honey bees," she said.

Bees pollinate some 100 crops in California, including about 700,000 acres of almonds, mostly in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, according to university statistics. The value of California crops pollinated by bees is $6.1 billion, according to Mussen.

In California, about 300 commercial beekeepers each operate between 1,000 and 15,000 colonies. In all, the state's 500,000 colonies represent one-fifth of the roughly 2.5 million colonies in the United States, Mussen asserts.

Since 2006, colonies in North America and Europe have been depleted by colony collapse disorder, a mysterious malady in which worker bees have suddenly disappeared from hives.

Over the past few years, beekeepers have reported losing between 30 percent and 100 percent of their hives because of CCD, Garvey said.

Scientists have blamed various factors for the disorder, including diseases, pests, pesticides, stress and climate change.

The disorder has waned a bit in the West, but beekeepers east of the Rocky Mountains are still having severe difficulties, Mussen said.

UC-Davis' bee researchers have long offered information about their work on the university's website, Mussen said, but the data was somewhat hidden. Now it's available in one place.

"It's just sort of a multipurpose page to make it easier to get the information you might want to know about honey bees," he said.

Staff writer Tim Hearden is based in Shasta Lake. E-mail: thearden@capitalpress.com.


For the University of California's new website on bee research, visit http://beebiology.ucdavis.edu.


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