When Dan Cariveau began studying bees a decade ago, the first question people would ask him was, “How often do you get stung?”
Today, the line of questioning has shifted to whether bees are declining, what kind of habitat they need, and how we can help them.
Cariveau, an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology and a researcher at the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab, sees the change as a sign people are realizing how important bees are.
The Bee Lab opened in 2016. For years Marla Spivak, Distinguished McKnight Professor of Entomology, had been doing honey bee research in a lab in the Department of Entomology and a small garage. To build a large modern facility, the Minnesota Legislature approved $4.2 million of the $6.4 million needed, and the U of M raised the rest.
The 10,500-square-foot Bee Lab enables U of M researchers to study everything from large-scale habitat and ecosystems to the inner workings of individual bee cells. A research project Cariveau began last summer will help answer questions about the preferred environment of both honey bees and native bees.
With funding from the state of Minnesota and the USDA, Cariveau’s team is paying rental fees to corn and soybean farmers in southwestern Minnesota to convert 40 to 45 plots, ranging from 1 to 15 acres each, to pollinator habitat. The team sows various flower seed mixes to compare the impact each has on the bees’ population and health. They also study whether plot size and location make a difference.
The enthusiasm from farmers has been gratifying. “Some of the farmers don’t even want to be paid back for the rental fees because they’re so excited about the work,” Cariveau says.