CORVALLIS, Ore. — Andony Melathopoulos says his work is pretty sweet.
Melathopoulos leads Oregon State University Extension’s statewide pollinator health program and is an assistant professor. Agricultural experts say he’s one of the nation’s most remarkable innovators in the world of bees.
The researcher has made significant contributions to bee disease studies, has trained thousands of Oregon applicators in how to safely apply pesticides, teaches the public about agriculture and pollination and started America’s first statewide native bee inventory.
“I love it when people get excited about bees. A lot of Oregonians I run into — rancher, applicator, Portland person — are like, ‘What are these weird little red things zipping along the landscape?’ They’re really just curious, like me,” said Melathopoulos.
Melathopoulos said he has always been interested in the natural world. He remembers watching nature TV shows as a kid and thinking: “How can such creatures exist?”
He grew up in Canada and said that working in Oregon has been “a dream” because Canada doesn’t have an extension service and Oregon has a wider range of fauna, or animal life.
In Canada, Melathopoulos grew up in an agricultural region and worked alongside farmers. Here too, he said he’s passionate about the intersection of agriculture and pollination.
Melathopoulos runs a program called the Oregon Bee Project with two different arms. The first helps beekeepers and farmers better care for “managed” bees including honey bees, leafcutter bees, orchard mason bees and alkali bees.
The second arm focuses on native bees, of which Oregon has more than 620 types.
The researcher’s latest project, OSU’s Master Melittologists program — a melittologist is a bee expert — trains volunteers to locate, identify and preserve bees native to the state in a database called the Oregon Bee Atlas.
He and his colleagues train volunteers and then send them out to catch and track bees. The project has helped promote biodiversity and enabled growers to boost crop yields.
The researcher has trained more than 150 volunteers to collect samples.
“A lot of ‘citizen science’ programs make people do a repetitive task again and again, the grunt work. But these volunteers wanted to be the discoverers. They wanted some independence. So I gave it to them,” said Melathopoulos.
Volunteers say this sets Melathopoulos apart from many researchers; he empowers people.
“I just — I don’t know how Andony (Melathopoulos) does it because this is just one little part of his job. He’s been amazing. And he makes himself available to everyone,” said Michael O’Loughlin, 58, a Yamhill County volunteer.
Melathopoulos’ native bee studies have been useful in crop pollination efforts, especially in the state’s clover seed industry and in Bandon-area cranberries.
Melathopoulos said he’s also passionate about helping farmers apply pesticides in the safest ways possible. Since 2018, he has trained more than 7,000 pesticide applicators.
He also teaches the public about agriculture and pollination through coloring books, OMSI exhibits and presentations. OMSI is the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
And colleagues say in his OSU classrooms, he’s training the next generation of bee experts.