Marla Spivak researches bees’ behavior and biology in an effort to preserve this threatened, but ecologically essential, insect.

Why you should listen

Bees pollinate a third of our food supply -- they don’t just make honey! -- but colonies have been disappearing at alarming rates in many parts of the world due to the accumulated effects of parasitic mites, viral and bacterial diseases, and exposure to pesticides and herbicides. Marla Spivak, University of Minnesota professor of entomology and 2010 MacArthur Fellow, tries as much as possible to think like bees in her work to protect them. They’re “highly social and complex” creatures, she says, which fuels her interest and her research.

Spivak has developed a strain of bees, the Minnesota Hygienic line, that can detect when pupae are infected and kick them out of the nest, saving the rest of the hive. Now, Spivak is studying how bees collect propolis, or tree resins, in their hives to keep out dirt and microbes. She is also analyzing how flowers’ decline due to herbicides, pesticides and crop monoculture affect bees’ numbers and diversity. Spivak has been stung by thousands of bees in the course of her work.

What others say

"Bees have a champion in Marla Spivak." — The Promised Land

Marla Spivak’s TED talks

Marla Spivak on the TED Blog

Live from TEDGlobal 2013

The big bee bummer: Marla Spivak at TEDGlobal 2013

June 12, 2013

Our supermarket produce aisles would look very, very bare without bees. As MacArthur Fellow Marla Spivak explains on the TEDGlobal stage, this is something we should all be extremely concerned about: the dramatic drop in bee populations that’s been taking place over the past seven years. (Read The New York Times’ take on the especially scary drop in […]

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Live from TEDGlobal 2013

Listening to Nature: The speakers in Session 5 at TEDGlobal 2013

June 12, 2013

This session asks us to pay closer attention to what nature has to tell us — both about itself and about the world around us. We’ll investigate a variety of sources — from the soundscapes of ecosystems to the neurons of cockroaches to the extraordinary sex lives of animals. Here are the speakers who appeared […]

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