Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Now that your minds are open I would like to tell you my goal for this talk. Which is to change your perspective on many things. How about this for one? (Laughter) This man is wearing what we call a "Bee Beard." A beard full of bees. Now this is what many of you might picture when you think about honeybees. Maybe insects or maybe anything that has more legs than two. And let me start by telling you I gotcha. I understand that. But there are many things to know and I want you to open your minds here, keep them open and change your perspective about honeybees. Notice that this man is not getting stung. He probably has a queen bee tied to his chin and the other bees are attracted to it. so this really demonstrates our relationship with honeybees and that goes deep back for thousands of years. We're very co-evolved because we depend on bees for pollination and even more recently as an economic commodity. Many of you may have heard that honeybees are disappearing. Not just dying, but they're gone. We don't even find dead bodies. This is called "Colony Collapse Disorder" and it's bizarre. Researchers around the globe still do not know what's causing it. But what we do know is that with the declining numbers of bees the costs of over a 130 fruit and vegetable crops that we rely on for food is going up in price. So honeybees are important for their roll in the economy as well as in agriculture. Here you can see some pictures of what are called green roofs or urban agriculture. We're familiar with the image on the left. That shows a local neighborhood garden in the south end. That's where I call home. I have a beehive in the backyard. And perhaps a green roof in the future when we're further utilizing urban areas where there are stacks of garden spaces. Check out this image above the orange line in Boston. Try to spot the beehive. It's there! It's on the rooftop right on the corner there and it's been there for a couple of years now. The way that urban beekeeping currently operates is that the beehives are quite hidden and it's not because they need to be, it's just because people are uncomfortable with the idea. And that's why I want you today to try to think about this. Think about the benefits of bees in cities and why they really are a terrific thing. Let me give you a brief rundown on how pollination works. So we know flowers. We know fruits and vegetables. Even some alfalfa and hay that the livestock for the meats that we eat rely on pollinators. But you've got male and female parts to a plant here and basically the pollinators are attracted to plants for their nectar and in the process a bee will visit some flowers and pick up some pollen or that male, kind of sperm counterpart along the way and then travel to different flowers and eventually, an apple in this case will be produced. You can see the orientation, the stem is down. The blossom end has fallen off by the time we eat it. But that's a basic overview of how pollination works. And let's think about urban living, not today and not in the past but what about in 100 years. What's it going to look like? We have huge, grand challenges these days of habitat loss. We have more and more people, billions of people. In 100 years god knows how many people and how little space there will be to fit all of them. So we need to change the way that we see cities. And looking at this picture on the left of New York City today you can see how gray and brown it is. We have tarpaper on the rooftops that bounces heat back into the atmosphere. Contributing to global climate change no doubt. What about in 100 years. If we have green rooftops everywhere and gardening and we create our own crops right in the cities. We save on the cost of transportation. We save on a healthier diet and we also educate and create new jobs locally. We need bees for the future of our cities and urban living. Here's some data that we collected through our company with Best Bees. Where we deliver, install and manage honeybee hives for anybody who wants them. In the city, in the countryside. And we introduce honeybees and the idea of beekeeping in your own back yard or rooftop or fire escape for even that matter. And seeing how simple it is and how possible it is. There's a counterintuitive trend that we noticed in these numbers. So let's look at the first metric here. Overwintering survival. Now this has been a huge problem for many years. Basically since the late 1980's when the Varroa Mite came and brought many different viruses, bacteria and fungal diseases with it. Overwintering success is hard and that's when most of the colonies are lost. And we found that in the cities bees are surviving better than they are in the country. A bit counterintuitive right? We think, Oh bees, countryside, agriculture. But that's not what the bees are showing. The bees like it in the city. Furthermore, they also produce more honey. The urban honey is delicious. The bees in Boston on the rooftop of the Seaport Hotel where we have hundreds of thousands of bees flying overhead right now - that I'm sure none of you noticed when we walked by - are going to all of the local community gardens and making delicious, healthy honey that just tastes like the flowers in our city. So the yield for urban hives in terms of honey production is higher as well as the overwintering survival compared to rural areas. Again a bit counterintuitive. And looking back historically at the timeline of honeybee health we can go back to the year 950 and see that there was also a great mortality of bees in Ireland. So the problem with bees today isn't necessarily something new. It has been happening since over 1,000 years ago. But what we don't really notice are these problems in cities. One thing I want to encourage you to think about is the idea of what an urban island is. You think in the city maybe the temperature is warmer. Why are bees doing better in the city? This is a big question now to help us understand why they should be in the city. Perhaps there's more pollen in the city with the trains coming into urban hubs they can carry pollen with them, very light pollen and it's just a big supermarket in the city. Lot of linden trees live along the railroad tracks. Perhaps there are fewer pesticides in the cities than there are in [rural] areas. Perhaps there are other things we're just not thinking about yet. But that's one idea to think about, urban islands. And Colony Collapse Disorder is not the only thing affecting honeybees. Honeybees are dying and it's a huge, huge grand challenge of our time. What you can see up here is a map of the world and we're tracking the spread of this Varroa Mite. Now the Varroa Mite is what changed the game in beekeeping. And you can see at the top right the years are changing. We're coming up to modern times and you can see the spread of the Varroa Mite. From the early 1900's through now it's 1968 and we're pretty much covering Asia. 1971 we saw it spread to Europe and South America. And then when we get to the 1980's and specifically in 1987, the Varroa Mite finally came to North America, to the United States. And that is when the game changed for honeybees in the United States. Many of us will remember our childhood growing up maybe you got stung by a bee, you saw bees in flowers. Think of the kids today. Their childhood's a bit different. They don't experience this. The bees just aren't around anymore. So we need bees and they're disappearing and it's a big problem. What can we do here? So what I do is honeybee research. I got my PhD studying honeybee health. I started in 2005 studying honeybees. In 2006 honeybees started disappearing. So suddenly like this little nerd kid going to school working with bugs became very relevant in the world. (Laughter) It just was serendipitously. And it worked out that way. So my research focuses on ways to make bees healthier. I don't research what's killing the bees per se. I'm not one of the many researchers around the world who's looking at the effects of pesticides or diseases or habitat loss and poor nutrition on bees. I'm a step beyond that. We're looking at ways to make bees healthier through vaccines. Through yogurt, like probiotics, and other types of therapies. In ways that can be fed orally to bees and this process is so easy even a 7 year old can do it. You just mix up some pollen, sugar and water and whatever active ingredient you want to put in and give it to the bees, no chemicals involved. Just immune boosters. Humans think about our own health in a prospective way. We exercise, we eat healthy, we take vitamins. Why don't we think about honeybees in that same type of way? Bring them to areas where they're thriving and try to make them healthier before they get sick. I spent many years in grad school trying to poke bees and do vaccines with needles. (Laughter) Like years. Years at the bench. Oh my gosh, it's 3 am and I'm still pricking bees. And then one day I said "Why don't we just do an oral vaccine?" It's like, "Ugh", so that's what we do. (Laughter) I'd love to share with you some images of urban bee hives. Because they can be anything. I mean really open you mind with this. You can paint a hive to match your home. You can hide a hive inside your home. These are three hives on the rooftop of the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel. And they're beautiful here. We matched the new color of the inside of their rooms to do some type of a stained wood with blue for their sheets. And these bees are terrific. And they also will use herbs that are growing in the garden. That's what the chefs go to to use for their cooking. And the honey. They do live events. They'll use that honey at their bars. Honey is a great nutritional substitute for regular sugar because of different types of sugars in there. We also have a classroom hives project where - this is a nonprofit venture - we're spreading the word around the world for how honeybee hives can be taken into the classroom or into the museum setting behind glass and used as an educational tool. This hive that you see here, has been in Fenway High School for many years now. The bees fly right into the outfield of Fenway Park. Nobody notices it. If you're not a flower, these bees do not care about you. (Laughter) They don't. They don't. They'll say "S'cuse me, flying around." So there are a lot of different things to learn about bees. We work with Italian bees and they are very docile. They are good honey producers. They're not an aggressive type of bee. That's something to learn about. There are different kinds. And students in this geometry classroom have learned how that hexagonal shape has evolved in nature. Why don't bees make a square pattern in the wax? Why don't they do triangle? And the teacher there, Benedette Manning, just won an outstanding teacher of the year award from the Boston public school system for her work with honeybees in the classroom. It's terrific. Some other images here in telling a part of the story that really made urban beekeeping terrific is in New York City beekeeping was illegal until 2010. That's a big problem because what's going to pollenate all of the gardens and the produce locally? Hands? I mean locally in Boston there is a terrific company called Green City Growers and they are going and pollenating our squash crops by hand with Q-tips. And if they miss that three day window there's no fruit.