The Bees Needs

High school experiment seeks help for honey bees.

About 80 percent of U.S. crops rely on pollination by honey bees. Concern about their viability has been mounting. Mass bee die-offs, known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), have led research scientists across the globe to examine the many pressures they face. And in the Stone Barns Center terrace garden apiary, so is a local 17-year-old. Sarah Marino, of Valhalla, N.Y., is conducting an experiment that aims to find a plant-derived solution to one particular hive stress: varroa mites.

Sarah began the first phase of her experiment last year, as a sophomore at Westlake High School. She came to Stone Barns and met with beekeeper Dan Carr to discuss possibilities for her research project. “The research Sarah proposed was original and useful to the greater beekeeping community,” says Dan. “We need top-notch students like Sarah to fall in love with bees early, so they will continue to research pollinator problems.”

Her experiment treated two types of bees with an organic miticide called HopGuard, derived from hops. In the end, the data on the effectiveness of the miticide was inconclusive; however, mite counts in untreated control hives showed that the Minnesota Hygienic bees were less affected by mites than were the New World Carniolan. Sarah’s project earned her third place in the Westchester Science and Engineering Fair’s animal science category, and she received the Acorda Scientific Excellence Award, given to high school students engaged in significant scientific research.

With her project becoming a topic of conversation in local beekeeping groups, Sarah is now part of that community. She has been brainstorming with William Hesbach of the Back Yard Beekeepers Association; with Tom Seeley, Cornell University biologist and author of Honeybee Democracy; and with Al Avitabile, co-author of The Beekeeper’s Handbook and emeritus professor of biology at the University of Connecticut. Still out to find a better way to treat varroa mites, phase two of her project this summer is comparing hives in which the brood cycle is broken—mites lay their eggs in the brood cells of colonies—to hives treated with another organic miticide, Api Life VAR.

In the fall, Sarah will apply early decision to Cornell University, where she hopes to major in entomology and go on to become a research scientist working toward a healthy future for bees.