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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Honey bee research buzzing on UA campus

UA affiliates and students are currently active in honey bee research with the vision that the bees are beneficial to the Tucson economy and ecology.

Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman, an adjunct scientist for the department of entomology and research leader and location coordinator for the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, works in the nutrition laboratory of the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She said honey bees are important to Arizona agriculture because of crop pollination.

“We grow a lot of seed crops here in Arizona, things like broccoli seeds, different vegetable seeds, and the bees pollinate the flowers and set the seed,” DeGrandi-Hoffman said.

She said honey bees are also important to the desert in making sure that desert plants set seed.

“This gives us recurring flowers, which are important for wildlife and for soil stability,” DeGrandi-Hoffman said. “All those sort of ecological benefits of flora on the desert floor.”

The nutrition lab conducts research on honey bee nutrition and focuses on trying to maintain colony health. Currently, it is looking at the nutritional needs of colonies, DeGrandi-Hoffman said, and the relationship between good nutrition and their community.

“We’re also looking at the microbes that are important in honey bee nutrition and how those help bees to preserve their food in the hive, but also to process and digest it within the bees themselves,” she said.

DeGrandi-Hoffman, Bruce Eckholm and Kirk Anderson published a chapter in the book “Honey Bee Colony Health: Challenges and Sustainable Solutions,” in which they present their research that the processing and preservation of pollen is partially due to microbes.

According to their chapter, the researchers are beginning to learn about all the components affected by microbes in the health of honey bees and other organisms. It explains that many metabolic processes are directed by genes of symbiotic microbes.

From this, researchers can assume that optimum health is reliant upon the microbes that are needed to process food and maintained conditions that stimulate their growth.

A trend that DeGrandi-Hoffman said she has seen over the past five or six years is that more people are becoming aware of the importance of bees, wanting to get into beekeeping and to keep pollinating plants so the bees that are around can get pollen and nectar.

“The value of bees to everyone has gone up quite a bit,” she said, “[and] the consciousness has really been raised on the importance of bees.”

She said if there was ever a silver lining to colony collapse disorder, it was the resulting awareness about honey bees that has been generated.

Sarah White, a biology sophomore, studies bees in a lab at the UA. She chose to do research on bees because she thought it would be interesting to learn more about them in a hands-on way.

“The news media focused attention so much on colony collapse disorder and the loss of bees and the importance of bees, that it really served an educational purpose and raised peoples’ consciousness,” DeGrandi-Hoffman said.

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Follow Brandi Walker on Twitter.

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