Building Up the UC Davis Bee Program
If the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis Department of Entomology, seemed like a lonely place in 1994, 2004 and 2005, that's because four professors retired.
Now the bee biology program is gaining new strength. In 2009, the Department hired native pollinator specialist/assistant professor Neal Williams.
And this week Michael Parrella, chair of the the UC Davis Department of Entomology, announced another new addition to the faculty: Brian R. Johnson, a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley.
That's good news for the university, good news for the department, good news for bee research and good news for the bees.
Johnson, an assistant professor, has broad interests in evolution, ecology, behavior, genetics, and theoretical biology.
"The Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility has been the site of very innovative bee research over the years that have contributed to the facility's national and international reputation,” Parrella said. “We are excited about hiring Brian Johnson as the new apiculturist at UC Davis as Brian is committed to moving the science of apiculture forward as well as to conducting problem-solving research to help beekeepers, bee breeders and those stakeholders who rely on pollination services provide by honey bees.”
Johnson received his doctorate in 2004 from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. in behavioral biology (thesis: “Organization of Work in the Honey Bee”). A native of Hartford, Conn., Johnson grew up primarily in San Jose but also lived in Omaha, Neb.
Johnson has studied bees for more than 12 years. But, as he said, "I still learn something unexpected and important with every new study. The colony is like a hugely complex puzzle, with many pieces fitting together in functionally cohesive ways. This brain-teaser aspect of figuring out how a honey bee colony works is I think what first attracted me to bee research.”
“In the past (prior to the 1980s) bees were more or less healthy, so little effort went into understanding their basic epidemiology,” Johnson said. “When tracheal mites, and then Varroa moved in, great effort went into controlling these pests, but still little effort went into basic bee epidemiology. Now with colony collapse disorder (CCD), the emphasis is finally transitioning from trying to put out fires--by which I mean control nasty pests of current concern--to both trying to put out fires and understand what causes them in the first place.”
“My hope is that Davis can be at the forefront of this endeavor to both control CCD,” Johnson said, “and to understand what factors underlie a healthy or unhealthy population of honey bees.”
Johnson has already settled into his lab at the Laidlaw facility and his office on the third floor of Briggs Hall.
Brian Johnson, who specializes in behavior, genetics and evolution of honey bees, has joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee researcher Brian Johnson examines a frame of bees at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)