University of Mississippi becomes bee-friendly

Constructed hives that house bees in the middle of a field under a cloudy sky

Here, the UM Beekeeper Club's hives are still in hibernation. (Gracey Massengill/University of Mississippi)

Everyday food production relies on bees and other pollinators, but in recent years studies have shown a global decline in pollinators. The University of Mississippi Field Station hosts research projects designed to further understand this mystery. The Field Station is an University facility that is dedicated to research and education for both teachers and students at the University of Mississippi.

The University of Mississippi recently joined the worldwide efforts to save honeybees and prevent pollinator extinction by becoming a pollinator friendly campus. As part of this campus initiative, UMFS recently became home to the University of Mississippi Beekeeper Club's honey bee hives.

Club President Katelyn Pennington and staff advisor Douglas Sullivan-Gonzalez reached out to Field Station Director Scott Knight in 2019 to use part of their land for their 3 hives. Knight said he was happy to help. The hives now reside on part of the 800 acres of land in an old yam field.  

“I love having students, helping with projects, and facilitating that,” Knight says. “It’s really rewarding to inspire folks and getting them to come out to the field station, enjoying the property and using it.”

Ban stands next to constructed beehive.
University of Mississippi Field Station Director, Scott Knight, and the Field Station bees. (Gracey Massengill/University of Mississippi)

The Field Station benefits the bees by avoiding the use of insecticides as well as providing a pollinator garden full of wildflowers. The bees, however, are not the only ones benefiting from their new home. Knight said he believes the bees have positively impacted the Field Station by pollinating their facility’s plants as well as teaching him the importance of pollinators and the dangers that come with their decline. 

“We are losing pollinators all over the world,” Knight said. “There is a lot of debate as to why. It could be insecticide use or other pollutants that we are not even aware of. Habitat loss is usually a factor in any animal that is beginning to disappear, and then there is a mite that is a problem for bees.”  

The UM Beekeepers have been tending the hives at its new location for one year, but the Field Station has been involved in pollinator research for about 5 years now. For instance, David Wedge from USDA Natural Products laboratory said his hives were at the Field Station to conduct research on natural mite repellent. He had read that the oil from mint leaves could be used as a natural repellent of mites, so the Field Station helped Wedge in his experiment by planting mint and assisting with data collection. 

The Beekeeper Club is focused more on learning the art of beekeeping, but also play an active part in saving the bees. Sullivan-Gonzalez said he started UM Beekeepers organization when students heard he had hives and showed interest in learning about the hobby of beekeeping. He said the best way to help pollinators is to plant trees, shrubs and plants. 

“Pollinators in general within the insect world have diminished drastically, and their loss represents a fundamental threat to the food chain,” he said. 

This new relationship between the UMFS and the UM Beekeepers has made it possible to reduce the threat in a small way and move scientists closer to solutions. The field station has provided the trees, shrubs and plants needed to support pollinators, and it has allowed UM to educate others on pollinator issues through hands-on experience.  

Ultimately, this relationship has allowed the University of Mississippi to become an important part of the global effort to save the bees. 

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