Profs Named to Bee Protection Group

July 10, 2013 - Campus Bulletin

A University of Guelph environmental sciences professor and pollinator expert has been named to a new provincial working group to protect honeybees and, ultimately, Ontario’s food and environment.

Ernesto Guzman, who heads Guelph’s Honey Bee Research Centre, was one of the experts named to the Bee Health Working Group announced Tuesday by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF).

Peter Kevan, an environmental sciences emeritus professor and a leader in pollinator conservation, was also invited to participate.

Other members include beekeepers, farmers, agri-business representatives, scientists and government staff. The group will give recommendations by spring 2014 on how to reduce risks to honeybees from exposure to neonicotinoid, a pesticide used to protect corn and soybeans.

“The creation of this working group is a vital step in our efforts to protect the environment and Ontario’s agri-food sector,” said Kathleen Wynne, minister of agriculture and food.

Dan Davidson, OBA president, added: “We look forward with partners to find alternatives for insect treatment to better protect bee health and prevent the losses of honeybees and other insect pollinators that we have seen during the last two seasons.”

About 3,000 registered beekeepers manage 100,000 honeybee colonies in Ontario. Honey production in the province is worth about $25 million a year.

Guzman studies honeybee diseases caused by mites and bee-breeding programs. He’s developing bees resistant to varroa mites and testing natural control products. He works closely with the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association (OBA) and with other researchers at U of G and OMAF, including at the Townsend House colonies on campus.

In 2010, Guzman showed that parasitic mites were the main culprit behind die-offs of honeybee colonies in Ontario. About 35 per cent of the province's bee colonies were destroyed from about 2007 to 2010, costing commercial beekeepers more than $5.2 million and crippling the industry.

Guzman, who joined U of G in 2005, was previously a research entomologist at the National Institute for Agricultural and Animal Research in Mexico, where he headed the country’s apiculture research program and taught at the National University of Mexico. He and colleagues in Mexico and the United States were the first researchers to pinpoint the gene responsible for defensive behaviour in Africanized killer bees.

Kevan was one of the first researchers to look at pollinator conservation in the 1970s. He has investigated pollinators — from insect and plant viewpoints — from the Arctic to tropical rainforests. His promotion of pollinators was rewarded in 2012 when a new bee species, discovered in the Brazilian state of Bahia, were named Chilicola kevani in his honour.

Kevan was a panel member on the São Paulo Declaration on Pollinators and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Status of Pollinators in North America. He chaired the International Commission for Plant-Bee Relationships, is a vice-president of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, and served as scientific director of the Canadian Pollination Initiative, a research network that was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

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