New faculty position to investigate pollinator health

A new entomology faculty position in the College of Agricultural Sciences will provide scientific and practical information aimed at promoting the health of honeybees and other pollinators. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Pollinators are declining rapidly throughout the world, and researchers are scrambling to figure out why. To assist Pennsylvania's beekeepers, growers and others as they face this crisis, the Department of Entomology at Penn State has created a new faculty position that will be responsible for conducting research, education and outreach on pollinator health, conservation and management.

"Pennsylvania, in particular, has been hit very hard, with a nearly 60 percent loss of honey bee colonies in the past year," said Gary Felton, professor and head of the Department of Entomology in the College of Agricultural Sciences. "This degree of loss is not sustainable. Our new faculty position will focus on improving the overall health of managed and native pollinators, especially in Pennsylvania."

The position -- titled assistant professor in managed pollinator biology, health and ecology -- will be housed within the Department of Entomology and be part of Penn State's Center for Pollinator Research. The position was announced on June 3, and applications will be accepted through Aug. 31, or until the position is filled.

According to Christina Grozinger, professor of entomology and director of the center, the successful candidate will have a 40 percent extension appointment, and thus will conduct research directly relevant to the needs of the center's stakeholders, including beekeepers and growers specializing in tree fruit, small fruit, vegetables and ornamentals. In addition, he or she will facilitate communication between center members and stakeholders and will work closely with the existing and very active network of Penn State Extension educators and Master Gardeners, and with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

More specifically, the successful candidate will conduct research and extension activities on the biology, ecology and health of managed pollinators. "This work could include investigating the primary stressors that affect pollinator species, such as pesticides, pathogens, parasites and poor nutrition due to reduced abundance and diversity of flowering plants in the landscape," said Grozinger.

"It also could include moving beyond simply describing the effects of these stressors to figuring out ways to combat them, for example by reducing pesticide use through integrated pest and pollinator management strategies, increasing nutritional resources by planting appropriate flowering plant species or breeding more resilient stocks of managed bees."

Edwin Rajotte, professor of entomology, noted that the center's faculty and staff members have conducted work on the problems surrounding pollinators for several years, long before President Barack Obama called for a federal strategy to promote the health of pollinators.

"Our center has one of the highest concentrations of pollinator scientists in the nation, if not the world," he said. "This new position will create a much stronger and more consistent link between our scientists and beekeepers, farmers, environmental managers and the public."

That, said Rick Roush, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, is part of the mandate of the new faculty position. "The mission of the college is to discover, integrate, translate and disseminate knowledge to enhance the food and agricultural system, natural resources and environmental stewardship, and economic and social well-being, thereby improving the lives of people in Pennsylvania, the nation and the world," he said.

"This position helps to meet those goals by conducting innovative research on pollinator health, without which fruit, vegetable and flower production will struggle -- putting jobs, our most nutritious foods and the beauty of our environment at risk."

According to Felton, part of the funding for the new position has been provided by a long-time supporter of the department: the Esther B. O'Keeffe Charitable Foundation.

Felton explained that start-up costs needed for new faculty positions are significant. "In order to conduct cutting-edge research, often very specialized and sometimes-expensive equipment for new faculty is needed," he said. "Due to significant cuts in funding for agricultural research and extension over the past several years, one of the most significant challenges for the Department of Entomology is to find the financial resources to cover the start-up costs for new faculty hires.

"The gifts from Esther B. O’Keeffe Charitable Foundation will cover a significant part of the costs to equip the laboratory of our new faculty hire. Without their generosity, this new faculty position would not have been possible."

Established in 1963, Penn State's Department of Entomology has grown into a well-balanced department combining innovative research and providing undergraduate education, graduate student training and extension outreach education focusing on both domestic and international issues. Twenty-four faculty members and more than 80 graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and research associates work on a variety of research topics providing insights into insect ecology, behavior and molecular biology as well as integrated pest management.

For more information about solving insect problems, descriptions of research and education programs or admission to the graduate program, visit the department's website or call 814-865-1895.

Scientists in the Center for Pollinator Research develop and implement integrative, multidisciplinary approaches to improving pollinator health, conservation and management for ecosystems services through research, education, outreach and policy.

To view the job description and/or to apply for the position, go to


Last Updated July 02, 2015