Annual BeeCon conference creates a buzz

The room was abuzz with bee researchers (melittologists) Nov. 23 for the annual BeeCon conference, where graduate students and faculty from southern Ontario and beyond presented their latest research.

Participants in the annual BeeCon at York University

It was the largest BeeCon, also known as Southern Ontario’s Bee Researchers Symposium, to date, with presentations on bee behaviour, genetics and genomics, conservation and more, organized annually since 2011 by the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Environmental Studies.

Assistant Professor Margarita Lopez-Uribe, Department of Entomology at Penn State, delivered this year’s keynote speech – “Bees, domestication and agriculture: an evolutionary story.”

York University biology PhD candidate Nadia Tsvetkov of the Faculty of Science, who recently won the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists Student Merit Award for her research on honeybees and neonicotinoids, spoke about gene expression in yellow-banded bumblebees.

Lyndon Duff

Brock University’s Lyndon Duff detailed some of the findings of his research looking at whether droughts reduce the efficiency of foraging for females, causing smaller drought-born adult offspring. One thing he found was that the wings on females increased during droughts, whereas for males they decreased.

It’s important to learn more about bumblebee habitats, what and where, so that conservation efforts can be better directed, said PhD candidate Amanda Liczner, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science. Bumblebees will use birdhouses, animal burrows, trees or even make nests in the grass.

Amanda Liczner

“We’re going to use a two-pronged approach to find the nests. We’re going to use citizen scientists to find the locations and super-cool detection dogs to help us find nests,” said Liczner.

She is hoping to start using the dogs this summer. Citizen scientists can send observations about North American bumblebee nest locations to Bumble Bee Watch or Save the Bumblebees. #Quest4BeeNests is a new project just launching to locate bumblebee nests.

PhD candidate Victoria MacPhail in the Faculty of Environmental Studies talked further about the value of citizen scientists and the accuracy and outcomes of the Bumble Bee Watch participants. “Citizen science is a way of collecting more data than traditional researchers can do alone,” said MacPhail. “It’s not just value for the researcher, it’s also value for the research participants. They gain more knowledge about the topics around bumblebees. They also learn about new techniques and also generally become more aware of the diversity around them, perhaps change their behaviour.”

To submit to Bumble Bee Watch, just send in a photo, the date and the location. Regional experts like Assistant Professor Sheila Colla, who organize this year’s BeeCon, will verify the observations.

Laurence Packer

And if you’re looking for rare bees, biology Professor Laurence Packer in the Faculty of Science showed the BeeCon participants where the best spots are to find them – northern Chile and southern Peru. Packer says southern Peru “is a remarkably understudied part of the world and is likely a good place to get genera and even higher level taxa that nobody has yet seen.”

The Faculties of Science and Environmental Studies, and the Office of the Vice President of Research & Innovation sponsored this year’s BeeCon.