Long live the bee

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Improving the longevity of bumblebees with student research

By Katherine Doyle
BIBLE HILL, N.S. - Sawyer Olmstead is buzzing about bees.

Sawyer Olmstead, an environmental science student at Dalhousie Agricultural Campus in Bible Hill, is studying if low doses of pesticides can influence the longevity or survival of bumblebees. Submitted photo

Inspired by an entomology class led by Dr. Chris Cutler, this fourth year environmental science student has uncovered a passion for bees.

“Bees are so important for pollination, but I envy how they can all work so well together as a group to achieve a common goal,” explained Sawyer. “Bees understand the concept and sometimes people don't.”

Drawn to the Faculty of Agriculture because of his farming background and love of soil, Olmstead soon found himself drawn to these powerful insects.

“I think a lot of people have a natural attraction to bees once they start learning about them, simply because they are fascinating,” said Cutler, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences.

A native of Truro, Olmstead was recently asked to take part in an international research project with the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development (OECD). OECD is an international co-operative effort that is attempting to determine toxicity standards for bumblebees. The tests were conducted in numerous labs across the globe, Cutler’s lab being one, which allowed Olmstead to conduct his research in Bible Hill.

“A lot of research has been done in insect toxicology and the effects of pesticides on bees and honey bees, because they are more common,” he said.  “Everyone loves honeybees. No one has really looked at bumblebees or other bees that are not in the honeybee family,” he added.  

Olmsteadis taking his research a step further by studying if low doses of pesticides can influence the longevity or survival of bumblebees which would be a beneficial response to pesticide.

“High doses can kill them, but it is starting to be observed that in some instances, low doses of pesticides can have beneficial effects on some insects such as increased fertility or improving the overall fitness of the insect.” As part of this project, Olmstead will be in the lab checking the daily results of his testing for 21 consecutive days.

He learned a lot from simply working and being on the agricultural campus. He gained knowledge on bees and beekeeping and was able to overcome and enjoy the challenges of beekeeping.

The student has also woven his beekeeping into his family farm.

“I have eight hives of my own and hope to have 20 by next fall. I plan to rent them out for pollination and grow it into a small business,” Olmstead added. “I incorporated them into the farm since they are important in an agricultural system. All livestock works together.”

After finding his passion for bees and having the opportunity to work with OECD through Dalhousie University, Olmstead plans to return to the Faculty of Agriculture in September to complete his master’s degree under the supervision of Cutler.

“Sawyer is a very bright guy, he did very well in my entomology class,” Cutler added. “Sawyer loves farming, the outdoors and nature in general.”


With graduation, commencement of his master’s degree, a budding business and much more in store in the coming years, Olmstead’s future is looking pretty sweet.

To learn more about life on the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus join us for Prospective Student Days on Feb. 26, March 4, March 11 or March 17. Learn more at dal.ca/futureagstudents


Katherine Doyle is a third year public relations student spending her co-op work term at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture.


Organizations: OECD, Department of Environmental Sciences, Organization for Economic Cooperation Development Dalhousie University

Geographic location: Truro, Bible Hill

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