We’re excited about the buzz coming out of a quiet corner of campus. This week, we’re celebrating the arrival of two beehives as a living lab for students and a sustainable and educational response to the decline of bee populations.

In addition to providing the sweet honey we hope to enjoy in a year, the hives are also creating for students some incredible first-hand learning and research opportunities into one of the most complex and challenging issues of our time. The initiative is part of a partnership between our facilities staff and the biology department, sustainability, dining services, and the School of Professional and Continuing Studies. The project is supported in part by gifts from the Class of 1992 to support environmental initiatives at Richmond.

UR’s beekeeping combines our commitment to sustainability with research into an issue known as colony collapse disorder, a term used to describe the crisis and decline in honeybees around the world. In case you haven’t heard about CCD, the issue packs a huge sting. It has the potential to cripple the stability of food-systems worldwide.

“Maintaining working productive hives at UR will allow students to observe and work with a living laboratory, which will demonstrate the interconnected roles of individual species in our local ecosystem,” said Kirstin Berben, biology laboratories manager and assistant beekeeper.

Students will enjoy research opportunities like the observation of hive behavior and investigation of environmental conditions that affect the species, and even analyzing the molecular components of our campus honey, Berben said. 

But don’t worry — our students won’t have all the fun. The bees are getting a great pollinator garden that will include apple and peach trees, as well as shrubs and flowers to attract bees and butterflies. Biology and environmental studies students will help maintain that garden.

“We want to rethink the way we engage our students with these issues and encourage them to develop solutions that we can then pilot,” Rob Andrejewski, sustainability director, said. “There is a level of awareness and critical thinking that goes into it that helps students steward our land, which leads to the thriving of plants and animals.”