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USask hires pollinator health researcher to see what challenges honey bees face

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WATCH: They may be small, but bees have a huge role to play in the ecosystem. Now there's a new ‘pollinator health research chair’ and tells us how her work hopes to make impactful change on global food security. – Jun 24, 2022

The world is filled with busy bees working hard collecting pollen, and Dr. Sarah Wood decided to research their response to disease, pesticides, and how they support agricultural crops.

Dr. Wood is the new University of Saskatchewan Research Chair position at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

She plans to focus on the health of pollinators that play an important role in food production and agricultural sustainability.

“Honey bees alone are pollinating two-thirds of our leading food crops in the world. They’re contributing $5.5 billion worth of pollination services to Canadian agriculture every year, as well as providing vital services to our ecosystems,” said Dr. Wood.

Through their daily work, pollinators enable plants to successfully grow and produce crops. Among all pollinators, honey bees have the greatest impact on global crop production.

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Read more: Experts say high mortality rate in Alberta honey bees this year

One particular disease they’ve been researching is called European Foulbrood and it’s a bacterial illness.

“We’re learning how the disease can spread between the colony’s larva and adult bees, and we’re also learning how we can control it, using antibiotics which veterinarians prescribe to bee keepers to treat affected colonies,” said Dr. Wood.

Funding is what made Dr. Woods’ position available, through a five-year funding commitment from:

  • The Saskatchewan Beekeepers Development Commission – $250,000
  • BASF – $250,000
  • SaskCanola – $150,000
  • British Columbia Blueberry Council – $50,000
  • Manitoba Canola Growers – $50,000

Read more: Return of the grasshoppers? Experts discuss likelihood of another surge in Lethbridge

“I think just spreading that education and awareness about the value of pollinators to our ecosystems and to agriculture is really exciting and makes me glad to go to work everyday,” said Dr. Wood.

This is the first veterinary college to have a honey bee research and teaching program in North America.

“There’s a need to better understand the causes of pollinator mortality. Pollinators are so important to our biodiversity as well as agriculture,” said Gillian Muir, Western College of Veterinary Medicine Dean .

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The Western College dean says she was delighted when they found out Dr. Woods wanted to be a part of it.

“It was her drive, her interest and her real passion for working in this area in ecosystem health, helping out agriculture as well really moved this forward,” said Muir.

Back in 2015, Dr. Wood was working with two coworkers to establish the lab and Wood’s new position secures the lab for future use.

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