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Heather Mattila

Heather Mattila completed her Ph.D. in 2005 at the University of Guelph (Canada), where her research focused on the effects of nutritional stress on colony health and productivity (with advisor Dr. Gard Otis). She subsequently completed a four-year postdoctoral fellowship at Cornell University (USA), where her research shifted to an examination of the mating behavior by honey bees queens and its impact on the colonies that they produce (with advisor Dr. Tom Seeley). Heather has been a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Wellesley College in Massachusetts since 2009. 

At Wellesley, her research continues to focus on mechanisms of social communication and organization, including honey bee behavior, the chemical ecology of colonies, the microbiology of queens and workers, and impact of nutritional stress on workers.  Her research program is supported by a dedicated group of Wellesley students, collaborations with colleagues from universities across North America, and by 20–40 colonies of honey bees on the Wellesley College campus.

Well-mated queens produce the busiest bees

There is a growing body of evidence that shows that the promiscuous mating behavior of honey bee queens has clear benefits for colony health and productivity.  The ancestral state for bees, ants, and wasps – all members of the dynamic insect group Order Hymenoptera – is presumed to be monandry (a single mate per queen).  However, queens of every honey bee species are extremely polyandrous (multiple mates per queen).  While mating with multiple males is a risky business for honey bee queens, it simultaneously boosts levels of genetic diversity in each colony by introducing into work forces multiple subfamilies of workers who carry genes from many drone fathers.  I’ll discuss the reasons why beekeepers and researchers are paying attention to this strange quirk of honey bee mating biology.


Hardworking bees need pollen!

Some of the most important tasks that workers perform are nursing and foraging.  Foragers bring into colonies the food that fuels the capacity of nurses to care for developing larvae.  Pollen is particularly important for colonies because it is their primary source of the building blocks that are essential for worker growth and development, including proteins, lipids, vitamins, and minerals.  I will describe how pollen stress during the early days of larval development creates a lasting legacy of poor task performance by workers when they are adult nurses and foragers.  This research shows why hardworking adult workers require consistent availability of pollen-based brood food during the early part of their lives, and how the success of colonies’ pollination services could be impacted by a loss of the type of foraging habitat that provides a reliable supply of this critical bee food.  

How do colonies use pollen outside of summer flows?

We'll keep talking about pollen and consider the benefits of supplementing a colony's pollen supply outside of the summer flow.  How do colonies use pollen to produce an overwintering population of bees?  Does feeding in the spring adequately prepare colonies for working hard during the summer?  What about supplementing colonies to "fatten up" bees in the fall?  We'll look at some multi-year, long-term data that tracks colony outcomes when beekeepers invest in pollen feeding.

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