Brittany Leyda

The Bees’ Needs: Dietary Additives as a Method to Reduce Pesticide Toxicity in Honey Bees

April 7, 2021   /  

Student Name: Brittany Leyda
Major: Biology
Minor: Spanish
Advisors: Dr. Laura Sirot, Dr. Reed Johnson, Dr. Stephen Ferguson

Dr. Melissa M. Schultz Sustainability and the Environment Award

Honey bees numbers are in decline. This decline is caused by many interacting factors, from the invasive Varroa mites to the extensive use of pesticides on crops. Not only can pesticides outright kill bees, but they can also lessen the ability of honey bees to respond to other stressors. To address this issue, I analyzed the effects of phytochemical dietary additives on the toxicity of pesticides when applied to honey bees via spray application. Phytochemicals are naturally occurring compounds in plants that occur in honey bee diets, and they can increase the production of enzymes that break down harmful chemicals including pesticides. Researchers have found that phytochemical dietary additives can reduce pesticide toxicity, and I wanted to test whether phytochemicals could reduce toxicity under more field-realistic conditions (by using commercial pesticide formulations rather than the active ingredients and using spray methods to apply the pesticides). To answer my research question, I fed honey bees one of three phytochemical treatments and sprayed them with one of six pesticide treatments. I recorded the number of dead bees and used the data to create dose-response curves to analyze the toxicity. I found that phytochemicals reduced the toxicity of several pesticides that have not been assessed before in this context. I was excited to tackle this research question largely due to my love for and desire to protect honey bees, and the idea that my results have practical applications for addressing honey bee decline is extremely fulfilling to me. I hope to see research that applies these conclusions to managed honey bee colonies to determine whether phytochemical dietary additives can be a viable part of the solution to honey bee decline.

NOTE: A Wooster login is required to view Brittany’s presentation materials.

View Brittany’s lighting presentation on Microsoft Stream

View Brittany’s longer presentation on Microsoft Stream

Click here to view Brittany’s presentation.

Brittany will be online to field comments on April 16: Noon-2 pm EDT (PST 9am-11am, Africa/Europe: early evening).

48 thoughts on “The Bees’ Needs: Dietary Additives as a Method to Reduce Pesticide Toxicity in Honey Bees”

  1. Nice work, Brittany, and a huge congratulations on winning the Dr. Melissa M. Schultz Sustainability and the Environment Award! Your conclusion is promising and I’m excited to see what you do next!

  2. Many congratulations, Brittany! I’m not surprised at your success. Best wishes for whatever you plan for the future.

    1. Thank you, Dr. Uber. I appreciate that you took the time to check out my presentation!

  3. Congratulations on winning that award, that’s so amazing! This is such a great project, I can’t wait to see what you do in the future.

    1. Thank you, Rachel! I also saw that you won the award for Most Engaging Poster; congratulations, you earned it!!

  4. Congratulations on completing this fantastic work and on your well-deserved award, Brittany! You are going places and I’m so excited for your bright honey bee and snail-filled future.

    1. Thanks, Morgan, I appreciate it! Also congratulations on your award, your I.S. is very impressive!

    1. Thank you, Dr. Sirot. Your help and support over the years has been invaluable. You’re an amazing mentor and person, and I owe a lot of my success to you. Thank you for everything!

  5. Great presentation Brittany! Curious why you choose this project / subject and also wondering what your plans are after graduation. Congrats on the award!

    1. Good questions! I always thought honey bee were interesting, and I so lucky to have gotten involved in honey bee research over at the OARDC with Dr. Johnson. Dr. Johnson had talked about this phytochemical paper that was published and suggested that much more work could be done on the subject, and the more I learned about phytochemicals in relation to pesticides, the more I wanted to pursue that topic for my I.S. It also has a lot of practical applications which I love as well. As for plans after graduation, I will be attending the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) as a Ph.D. student starting this fall, and I will be studying another invertebrate that I am passionate about: terrestrial snails.

  6. Congratulations! I loved how passionate you are about this topic and I know you are going to do great things post-Woo!! I can’t wait to see them!

    1. Thank you, and I appreciate that you came to see my work. I can’t wait to see the amazing things you do here at Wooster!

  7. Congratulations on your award, Brittany and this brilliant work on bees!!! Can’t wait to see you do big things after Woo!

    1. Thank you so much for coming to see my work! You’re amazing, and I look forward to hearing all about your I.S. this time next year!

  8. Congratulations on your work and your reward! Too bad I can’t log in to see your presentation even as a Wooster senior parent 🙁

    1. Thank you for checking out my I.S. I hope to publish my work at some point so I had the presentations be limited to the Wooster community (although it would be nice if parents could see too). If you want to send an email to me at I can go ahead and send you a different link to my presentations!

  9. Congratulations Brittany! Tremendous job.

    How would you like to see your research results put into practice?

    1. Thank you! I would love to see other researchers read my work and then conduct studies of how phytochemical dietary additives can help managed honey bee colonies in the field rather than just in the lab. That way, we can obtain more information under field conditions, and we would be better able to provide beekeepers with recommendations regarding why types of supplements to feed their bees.

  10. Hi Brittany, this is a very interesting topic. As you said, the bee population is in decline and I know you enjoy bees. What is the reason you selected bees as you focus? Furthermore, what is some information that you did not know about the bee population before going into you experiment?

    1. Hi, Meghan! Those are two good questions. I chose honey bees because they are adorable and because I wanted to do something to help address honey bee decline. I also had experience working with honey bees, and I knew that I wanted to continue honey bee research because I genuinely enjoyed doing it. As for things I didn’t know before starting my I.S., I had no idea that honey bees have much fewer enzymes for breaking down xenobiotics (like pesticides) compared to other types of insects. Also, I quickly learned that there is a lot of variation between bee hives, whether that is in level of aggression or overall level of hardiness.

  11. Great job Brittany! Way to power through the collapsing building. I love how your research is so applicable to saving the bees.

    1. Thank you so much, Saralee (I do have a lot more stories to tell because of this experience, that’s for sure)!

  12. Great job Brittany. In your opinion, what could we do in our own back yard to help the honey bee population?

    1. That’s a great question. I would recommend that people do their best to limit pesticide use, whether that is in their gardens, on ornamental plants, on their lawn, etc. Something else that can help bee populations is not to remove the so-called “weeds” that appear in lawns, an example being clover. Clover is actually a good source of food for honey bees!

      This is a duplicate comment, but I wanted to make sure that I replied directly 🙂

  13. Outstanding research! I very much enjoyed learning from your research and I have high hopes in viewing your work in the future.
    However, one question I have about this experiment would be whether you have considered testing this method on differing bee species?

    1. Hi Cameron, thank you for your kind comments! You also pose a great question. I personally didn’t consider testing this method on other bee species because this type of toxicology work requires a ton of bees in order to carry out, so having access to hives of bees I could pull from was very important. But I do think these methods would be good to test on other bee species since all types of bees are affected by pesticide use, not just honey bees. That would be a helpful area of future research; native bee species are in decline as well as honey bees!

  14. That’s a great question. I would recommend that people do their best to limit pesticide use, whether that is in their gardens, on ornamental plants, on their lawn, etc. Something else that can help bee populations is not to remove the so-called “weeds” that appear in lawns, an example being clover. Clover is actually a good source of food for honey bees!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, I appreciate it. I’m proud of you, too!

  15. Fantastic work Brittany! I am so excited to see the results from all your work in the Bee Lab in a wonderful polished presentation. Congrats on the award and good luck in grad school!

    1. Thank you so much! You were the connection that got me started with bee research in the first place, and I appreciate it.

  16. Congratulations on your work on a really cool project, and your work with the bees is incredibly impressive!

    1. Thank you, Sydney! I appreciate you coming to check out my research. I’m excited to see what you’ll accomplish after Wooster!

  17. Hey Brittany, what a wonderful project and gotta love the work on saving bees! I was wondering what you learned and took away from this project that isn’t necessarily IS related? And also how easy are these findings to implement in the real world?

    1. Thank you, and those are great questions! Honestly, one of the big things I learned is the importance of communication. I had an off-campus advisor, and on-campus advisor for the first semester, and a different on-campus advisor for the second semester (because she was on research leave in the fall). I had to constantly be in communication with my advisors about money, methods, data analysis, etc., and if someone wasn’t in the loop, issues could arise and deadlines might not be met.

      For your second question, my findings could be applied as easily as including phytochemicals in powder form as part of a nutrition supplement, but I think there needs to be studies that look at the impacts of phytochemicals on the health of managed honey bee colonies in the field rather than just in the lab before I make recommendations to beekeepers. I believe that would be the next step.

  18. Great job Brittany! You are a fantastically talented scientist, and I’m so excited to see what you accomplish after Wooster!

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