The López-Uribe Lab at Penn State

The research and extension programs of the López-Uribe lab at Penn State aim is to understand the consequences of agricultural practices on the health and evolutionary trajectories of managed and wild bees. Those efforts help develop sustainable practices through improved management and breeding programs of crops and pollinators.

The Apiculture Program has 2 research goals:
(1) Developing recommendations for the implementation of organic beekeeping in the United States.
(2) advancing the phenotyping of relevant health metrics of local honey bee stocks.
These two research areas have a strong foundation on needs and interests from the beekeeper community. Additionally, educational programs are offered through Penn State Extension to reach out to the

Screenshot of the heading of the American Association Professional Apiculturists (AAPA) website.

beekeeper and facilitate transfer of the new information from this research.

Members of the López-Uribe lab are also active participants of the American Association of Professional Apiculturists (AAPA), which offers a venue to effectively communicate findings of our research and extension programs with beekeepers and scientists across the United States. 

Organic Beekeeping

Beekeepers in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region lose about 40% of their colonies every year. Colony management is one of the most important drivers of honey bee health. Our research and extension efforts have been centered on developing management protocols that can help beekeepers increase the survival and profitability of their colonies. Through a multi-year project, we found that managing honey bee colonies under an organic system (free of synthetic pesticides and based on threshold applications of cultural and organic mite control methods) resulted in excellent survival and health for the bees, and high profits for the beekeepers. An organic honey bee management certification program is offered through Penn State Extension, training beekeepers on how to implement these management practices in their beekeeping operations (see here).

Currently, we are working on a USDA-OREI funded project to further study the context dependency of foraging behavior in honey bees and the feasibility of producing organic honey bee products in the United States. Our goal is to test whether beekeepers can use a combination of high quality, pesticide-free landscapes, and organic management practices to support honey bee colonies and produce organic honey bee products. This project is a collaboration between teams at Penn State, Cornell University, and Virginia Tech.

Honey bee stock genotyping

Integrated pest management is a key principle to managing honey bee pests such as varroa mites (Figure 1). At the base of this pyramid is the use of cultural control methods such as genetic stocks that are equipped to naturally resist the negative consequences of mite infestation. Despite great diversity of stocks commercialized as “mite resistant” in the United States (e.g., Russian, Minnesota Hygeinic, Pol-line), there is little data demonstrating how these types of bees perform in different environments across the country. 

Figure 1. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) pyramid displaying a range of practices that can be implemented by beekeepers for varroa mite control.

Through participatory science, the López-Uribe Lab has been working on collecting data from several stocks to determine whether some lines of bees naturally have better abilities to control mites while also being productive in the northern climates of the Mid-Atlantic region. We find evidence that locally-adapted stocks generally have better survival and honey production (Figure 2). We are following up this study with comparisons between several stocks produced by small local breeders across Pennsylvania.

Figure 2. Photo of one of the beekeepers participating in the queen comparison study with highly productive colonies from one stock.
Figure 3. Photo of the members of the López-Uribe lab in Fall 2022.