Unified Bee Health Data Key to Finding Trends

Taylor HillmanResearch

Bee Health
A national partnership is collecting bee health data from across the United States using surveys and specialized teams. Researchers can then use the centralized information to identify health trends in bees.

The Bee Informed program is a growing partnership that several institutions started five years ago. “The basic idea behind the Bee Informed partnership is that we want to collect bee health data from a whole bunch of different sources and then put it together in sort of a centralized database so that we can use human epidemiological approaches to look at that data and look for trends,” University of Maryland Assistant Professor Dennis vanEngelsdorp said. “So it’s just the same as how a doctor might look for trends in human health to find causes of cancer. We are sort of using those same tools to understand bee health and understand ways, importantly, how to stop colonies from dying as rapidly as they are.”

The partnership looks at thousands of surveys from beekeepers that list their practices and habits and how their bees’ health progresses through the year. The group doesn’t rely only on beekeeper participation, however. “Our tech transfer teams are one of our programs,” vanEngelsdorp said. “(The teams) go out, and we have specialized beekeepers — people who are trained to work with large-scale commercial beekeepers — and they visit these operations regularly throughout the course of a year, taking lots of different samples and then collecting their disease information and giving it back to the beekeepers.”

The Almond Board of California (ABC) is a major proponent of the tech transfer teams. The partnership is a non-profit, and ABC has helped fund the tech transfer team program as it expands.

“I also think it’s really important to note that the Almond Board support hasn’t only been financial. It’s also been sort of moral support and guidance support,” vanEngelsdorp said. “They’re a much bigger organization. Almonds are much more valuable than bees. What they have is a lot of resources that we can tap into. So when we have questions about pesticides, they have experts who have dealt with those issues, and we can ask them questions.”

One of the tech transfer teams is based in California. The team works a lot with commercial beekeepers in Chico, which vanEngelsdorp said is a really important region for queen production. Yet that isn’t the only research the program is doing in the Golden State. “In many ways, every tech transfer team, at some point, comes to California to take samples,” vanEngelsdorp said. “California, of course, is critically important during almond bloom. It also has a lot of the big commercial beekeepers, so we have a heavy presence in California as the bees move in and out.”

Visit BeeInformed.org to find out more information about the partnership and its tech transfer teams.