CORVALLIS, Ore. –An expert on bee pollinators has arrived at Oregon State University to fill a new Extension position focused on improving the health of honey bees and other pollinating insects.
Andony Melathopoulos comes to OSU from a post-doctoral position in pollination ecology at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. He joins two other bee health experts recently hired at OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences: Hannah Lucas and Jared Jorgensen.
Lucas, who started her job last November, studies bee parasites and diseases and is assisting with the expansion of OSU Honey Bee Lab’s diagnostic services for beekeepers. Jorgensen, who started his last March, also helps with bee health diagnostics and conducts field studies in partnership with commercial beekeepers.
The three positions were made possible by a $14 million investment in OSU research and Extension by the 2015 Oregon Legislature. Also in the 2015 session, lawmakers passed bills to boost outreach and education on pollinator health. Their concern was sparked by pesticide-related bee die-offs, including a 2014 incident in Wilsonville that killed 50,000 bumble bees.
Commercially managed honey bees pollinate about $500 million worth of Oregon crops each year, according to OSU professor and Extension specialist Ramesh Sagili. “Unlike other agricultural regions in the U.S., the Pacific Northwest produces a large variety of specialty crops, many of which rely on insects for pollination,” Sagili said. These crops include blueberries, cherries, apples, pears and vegetable seed such as broccoli, radish, carrot and onion.
Other important pollinator species besides honey bees include alfalfa leafcutter bees, mason bees and mining bees—all managed species—and native wild pollinators such as bumble bees.
“This support for pollinator health complements our existing nationally recognized honey bee research program for commercial beekeepers and our Extension Master Beekeeper program,” said Bill Braunworth, head of OSU’s horticulture department. “We look forward to contributing further to the needs of the communities and agricultural interests in Oregon that are involved with pollinators.”
Before earning his doctorate at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Melathopoulos spent 13 years in Alberta, working on honey bee pests and diseases for Canada’s national honey bee research center. He also studied lesser-known species, including the alfalfa leafcutter bee and wild bees in lowbush blueberry fields in Atlantic Canada and Maine.
He said he was attracted to OSU because it already has vigorous research and outreach programs on pollinator health, and also because there’s a high level of public interest in protecting pollinators.
“I think of pollinators as part of a working landscape filled with people who care, but who are pressed for time,” he said. “And even the most concerned citizen is largely unaware of the movement of commercial honey bee colonies, or of the importance of habitat for wild pollinators.
His goal, he said, is to connect people interested in pollinators with practical tools they can use to promote a healthy bee environment. He’s working with the Oregon Department of Agriculture to roll out a statewide pollinator education and safety plan in the next few months. He is also forging ties with Oregon’s commercial beekeepers, farmers, pesticide applicators, urban parks departments and others who play a role in keeping pollinators healthy.
“We want to give people the tools to keep Oregon pollinator-friendly,” Melathopoulos said. “If we do our job right, protecting pollinators will merge seamlessly with people’s daily life and work.”