Bee researchers tackle big buzz questions at annual BeeCon

A group shot of the attendess at BeeCon

Bee researchers gathered for the annual BeeCon – southern Ontario’s bee researchers symposium – on Monday, Aug. 26 to talk about everything related to bees, including bee behaviour, genetics and genomics, and conservation.

A group shot of the attendees at BeeCon

This year’s bee conference, organized by Faculty of Science biology Professor Laurence Packer and biology research assistants Sheila Dumesh and Liam Graham, drew bee researchers from Ontario and beyond, including some from as far away as Australia. Close to 90 people registered for the conference, which was primarily an opportunity for graduate students to present their research and discuss their findings.

Student presentations looked at topics including the heritability of detoxification in honeybees by the Faculty of Science’s Nadia Tsvetkov; bumblebee queen abundance and diversity in farms and natural areas by Kayla Mundy-Heisz of the University of Guelph; and a talk about citizen science by Victoria MacPhail of the Faculty of Environmental Studies. Katherine Odanaka of the Faculty of Science looked at the effects of land use on wild bee functional and phylogenetic diversity, while Tanya Latty of the University of Sydney discussed flower choice, decoy effects and urban agriculture with bees.

Ricardo Ayala Barajas
Ricardo Ayala Barajas

Keynote speaker Ricardo Ayala Barajas of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México discussed the diversity of bees in Mexico, as well as the current impact the loss of pollinators is causing.

He told the audience that 107 taxonomists have described 1,910 species of bees from Mexico in the past 257 years. That compares to about 900 in Canada and 3,745 in the United States. There is now a network to study the bees of Meso-America, including taxonomy, conservation, faunistics, natural history and pollination. Even with the network, Central America needs more taxonomists to study bees and provide more information about their behaviour, habits and floral relations, among other topics.

Mexico has a richness of native bees, said Ayala Barajas, who pointed out which states have the most diversity. The family Apidae is the most diverse of the six bee families found in Mexico, with 74 genera and 668 species. This included 23 registered species of bumblebees (genus Bombus).

In addition, there are many species of oil-collecting bees, stingless bees and orchid bees in Mexico. Stingless bees are responsible for pollinating crops such as chilis. In recent years, he said, there has been more discussion about importing new pollinators. At the moment, Bombus impatiens are imported to pollinate about 40,000 hectares of greenhouse crops – tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, sweet peppers and various berries – but Ayala Barajas said there are other native Bombus species that could be used instead and it is known that introduced species bring diseases that cause problems for local species.

Mexico, like the rest of the world, is facing a loss of bee diversity, which is mostly the result of human activity, said Ayala Barajas. Urgent measures to stop the deterioration of forests and jungles, promotion of programs to reverse deforestation and better regulation of agrochemicals is needed.

“A balance is required between areas dedicated to apiculture and meliponiculture, which provide the crop pollination and other economic needs of the people and areas dedicated to conservation of native bee fauna,” said Ayala Barajas.