MSU Apiculture Laboratory: Serving the Beekeeping Industry

Zachary Huang, Principal Investigator
Department of Entomology
Michigan State University
243 Natural Science
East Lansing, MI 48824

My main research interest is in honey bee biology. My lab uses computational, behavioral, physiological, and biochemical methods to understand the social organization of a bee colony. We attempt to combine basic and applied research to develop a program that would benefit the beekeeping industry in the the state of Michigan and in the country.

Honey bees play a critical role in US agriculture. The most important role honey bees play is actually not honey production, but pollination. The value of crops that require pollination by honey bees, in the United States alone, is estimated to be around $24 billion each year and commercial bee pollination was valued around $10 billion annually. Honey bees also share one feature with the humans: they also have a highly organized society, albeit without the extensive government that we have. Honey bees are easy to rear and can serve as a model organism for many basic questions in biology. For these reasons honey bees have been well studied but still many questions remain.

One central question is their mechanism of division of labor. In other words, how do each worker know what to do in a crowded "city" with 40,000 other members? I have studied the physiological mechanisms of division of labor the last 18 years, first with Prof. Gard Otis (University of Guelph), then at the Robinson lab (University of Illinois), and still maintain a keen interest in this area. Currently we are studying various aspects of juvenile hormone in relation to task performance in honey bee workers. On the applied research front, we are now studying mechanisms of resistance of the Varroa mite to pesticides. Varroa mite is perhaps the largest threat to the beekeeping industry right now and has developed resistance to many pesticides we have used to curtail their effects on honey bees. We are also studying the mechanisms through which Nosema Apis changes honey bee behavior and physiology. Small hive beetle is recently introduced from Africa to the United States and is causing huge problems as a new invasive species. We are currently studying its distribution in Michigan, developing methods for its detection, and devising better control strategies for this pest.

MSU is one of the few universities with two honey bee scientists. Prof. Fred Dyer also studies bees, but is located in the Dept of Zoology. He and I share the same field laboratory. For research in the laboratory of Prof. Fred Dyer, pleasecheck

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