Talk/discussion title and brief information
Title: How endangered is the honey bee and how can we help?
When people hear that I am a professor who studies honey bees they usually reply “I hear the bees are all dying”. The press have done a marvelous job of making people think that honey bees are all dying, yet there are almost certainly more honey bees alive on planet Earth today that at any previous time, something like 500 million colonies and 5 trillion individual bees. This is not to say there are no challenges. Honey bees face increased pests and diseases and reductions in their food supply, and like all wildlife share a planet with an increasingly dominant primate species whose civilization may well be passing beyond the bounds of moderation. These challenges especially affect commercial beekeeping. That is, beekeepers with hundreds even thousands of hives who produce most of the 1.6 billion kg of honey per year, which, along with crop pollination, worth c. £50 billion per year, are two reasons why honey bees are important to humans. The myth of the endangered honey bee has led to some bizarre and quixotic outcomes, such as the London council giving away free bee hives to anyone who wanted one (imagine if we tried to help endangered elephants in the same way), and all kinds of organizations, including the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and DEFRA in London, signalling their environmental credentials by locating hives on the roof of their HQ building. Unfortunately, the signal is more one of spin over substance. In addition, cities such as London probably now have more bee hives that the local flowers can easily support. A better way to help bees would be to encourage people to plant flowers, not to keep more hives. The Laboratory of Apiculture & Social Insects (LASI), at the University of Sussex, has been carrying out research on helping honey bees. We can now advise beekeepers how to control several of the major pests and diseases affecting honey bees, and we can also advise gardeners and local authorities how to chose flowers that provide more pollen and nectar to bees and flower visiting insects in general.
Ratnieks biography material
Francis Ratnieks grew up in south east England and has a life long interest in science and insects. As a boy spent a lot of time chasing butterflies and moths, something he still does. He began his Biology BSc at Sussex University in 1971, but as was the fashion in those days, he dropped out. He then spent 8 years living in Ireland, initially in Co. Kerry where he was a licensed pedlar, made jewelry and worked on fishing boats, later enrolling in the University of Ulster where he took a BSc in Ecology and where his enthusiasm for insects resurfaced. From Ulster, by way of Panama, he went to the Department of Entomology at Cornell University where he took MS and PhD degrees in honey bee biology and also spent time doing research in Mexico on “killer bees” and working for the New York State Apiary Inspection Program doing research and giving talks to beekeepers on honey bee diseases. He then did postdoctoral research on honey bees and social insects at the University of California, Berkeley and Riverside, and also taught at the University of Aarhus in Denmark. In 1995 he returned to the UK, to Sheffield University, and set up the Laboratory of Apiculture (LASI) and became the UK’s first Professor of Apiculture. In 2008 he returned to Sussex where he remains the UK’s only Professor of Apiculture and head of LASI. He has studied honey bees and social insects on all continents except Antarctica and has given seminars in two foreign languages. While in the USA he kept up to 180 bee hives making honey and comb honey, queen rearing and pollinating almonds. He is author of 270 research articles on honey bees and social insects, including c. 10 in Nature & Science magazines, and has trained c. 20 PhD students and 20 postdoctoral researchers in his lab. He is also the author of 100 outreach articles for beekeepers and others, and makes an effort that both he and LASI are always involved in the public communication of science to the general public and outreach to beekeepers. He has found that the most useful things he learned at school were woodwork (for making bee hives) and algebra (for modeling social evolution). He has also found that the most useful scientific instruments are eyes and an enquiring mind, and the most important thing in a laboratory are the people.
The Elephant And Castle
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