Btown bands together for the bees

That’s IU graduate student Ellie Symes, who’s part of a growing network of IU students, faculty, staff and Btown residents taking on the cause of the honeybee and its perilous existence. Ellie, in her first year at IU’s top-ranked School of Public and Environmental Health, is one of a dozen students who’ve joined the Beekeeping Club at IU to help establish hives on campus and raise awareness of the ongoing collapse of bee colonies.

U.S. beekeepers lost more than 40 percent of their colonies in 2014-15, and in Indiana, the total colony loss last year was 49 percent.

“The numbers are shocking,” Ellie says.

When members of the IU Newsroom began work on their latest in-depth, long-form story, “Keepers of the Bees,” even though the collapse of the bees had become a hot issue in the news and attracted the attention of the White House, I was still shocked to learn just how potentially disastrous of a problem this is — bees are the most important pollinators of flowering plants and, along with other insects, directly produce a third of every bite of food we eat and are responsible for more than $15 billion annually to the U.S. agricultural sector.

At the same time, I was also heartened by the scientific and grassroots work being done in the gardens, labs and nature centers here on campus and within the surrounding community to both better understand the various parts of the disappearing bee conundrum, including the bees’ possible vulnerabilities to pesticides, poor nutrition and disease.

Indeed, all of us who had the pleasure of being involved in telling this important story could feel tremendous pride in the ingenuity and resourcefulness of IU students, faculty and staff, and the time and energy they’ve dedicated to the cause of the bees. (Retired IU microbiology professor and longtime beekeeper George Hegeman, 77, started becoming interested in beekeeping as a boy on Long Island.)

We could also marvel at their persistence when presented with difficult challenges. (Ellie Symes’ first bee hive, installed in the spring of 2014 by way of a research grant from IU Bloomington’s Hutton Honors College, succumbed to the fate of many U.S. hives and failed to survive the winter. Disappointed, but undaunted, she helped establish two more hives this summer.)

Here in the Newsroom, we’ve thrown around the “b” word — as in “buzz” — a lot lately, but IU’s work on the bees is truly catching on fast, and we look forward, as we hope you will, to continuing to follow the effort to make IU a more bee-friendly campus and a leading center for new research and discovery into promoting the health of an insect that plays such an important role in all of our lives.

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