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Honey Bees in a honeycomb

KU Bears Research: Honey Bees

by Darius Pleasant '16 M '18

Kutztown University's KU Bears is a program which offers research grants to both students and faculty alike. The goal of the grant is to not only provide faculty members with paid student research assistants but to develop necessary field-specific skills within undergraduate students. With the help of KU Bears, Dr. Robyn Underwood, assistant professor of biological sciences, and biology-major Austin Stoudt '18 were able to recently complete a joint research project in which they studied beekeeping management and how it affects honey bee health.

Dr. Robyn Underwood and Austin Stoudt examine honey beesBeekeeping management philosophy has to do with how the bees are housed, how often they are monitored, all the way down to what pesticides are used, if any at all. When it comes to any form of livestock management there are generally two opposing camps - organic and conventional. Most beekeepers using pesticides manage their livestock based on how they have always done it.

"They [conventional beekeepers] often use chemicals on a calendar basis and they don't really have time for each individual colony" Underwood said.

"Then you might have someone that calls themselves organic - they would treat an individual colony and they would only use certain chemicals that can't contaminate any products" she added.

The goal of the study was to see whether these certain organic or conventional management techniques had any effect on the bees or the parasites that harm them.

"We were looking at the Varroa [mite] and Nosema" Stoudt said.

Both the Varroa mite and Nosema can be detrimental to a bee's health, honey yield and even their ability to pollinate. These parasites can often interact with the bees in a myriad of ways and thus have several different effects.

"We looked at the colony itself: Are the bees growing strong? Is the queen still alive? Has she been replaced? Have they outgrown their hive?" Underwood said.

This created opportunities for Stoudt to get hands-on in-the-field experience.

"Basically, I would go into the hives and I would make sure that they [the bees] were functioning okay" added Stoudt.

Most of the farms Stoudt and Dr. Underwood conducted a majority of their research at were in the surrounding area. Two of the farms, Skyhollow and Origin Farm, owned by Jeff and Orin Moyer respectively, have an affiliations with the Rodale Institute. Both farms are operated organically.

The study has remained inconclusive in regard to a preference for either side - that of organic or more conventional methods - but neither Stoudt nor Underwood are advocating for either side.

"Honestly, whatever's best for the bees. That's what we care about" Underwood said.

"Yeah, we're not pushing for one or the other" added Stoudt.

To them it's about not maintaining a bias and letting the facts speak for themselves.

"That's what science is all about" concluded Underwood.