Bee believers

Notre Dame students are keeping bees on campus in an effort to study their critical role in the world's ecosystem.

The most important insect in the world for humans is the bee, according to Thomas Seeley, a world-renowned authority on bees and the Horace White Professor in Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University.

"Bees provide honey, pollinate plants and crops, and offer valuable insights for humans through their social behavior and organizational structure," said the author of a new book, “The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild” (Princeton University Press, 2019).

If one establishes a beekeeping program, Seeley advocates for the Darwinian Beekeeping method, which, he says, follows the guidance of wild bees and which applies to 90 percent of beekeepers who are operating at a small scale.

You now can add Notre Dame to that list of small-scale beekeepers after students in this semester's botany class opened their beekeeping operation on June 3. 

"The science department finished building the four beehive cabinets last week and we received our bees on Monday," said Carolyn Tuski, Notre Dame's botany teacher and greenhouse manager. "Our students will be using these hives to study the secret life of bees, including their relationship with agriculture, their role as pollinators, their feeding preferences, their behavior and more."

To prepare for this new academic adventure at Notre Dame, Tuski and fellow science teachers Sue McGinnis and Jocelynn Yaroch have themselves been studying bees and beekeeping through an online course through the Penn State University Agricultural Extension Service. 

"Among many things, we've learned that bees are a keystone species, which means they are a species that has an inordinate impact on the ecosystem they belong to and on which other species in that ecosystem largely depend," said Yaroch, who helped Tuski assemble and stain the beehive cabinets. "As pollinators, bees provide an important service to plants in that they are vital to plant reproduction, which supports the food web of the broader ecosystem. Every other organism in that ecosystem relies on the success of plants for their own survival."

Olivia Kowalkowski, a sophomore at Notre Dame Prep and a member of Tuski's botany class, also helped set up the beekeeping operation. She said she's excited to be part of such a program.

"I am interested in working on the beehive project because I think it's a cool opportunity to learn about something a little different from the typical science curriculum," she said. "Honey bees play a very important role in our ecosystem and we need to learn how to nurture and protect them."

Yaroch said the bee colonies, also called "nucs," or nucleus colonies, which are small honey bee colonies created from larger colonies, are located in a wooded area behind the school's Easterwood Wing near the greenhouse. 

Yaroch also noted that while other pollinators exist in nature, honey bees in particular are voracious in their appetite for nectar and far surpass other pollinators in their ability to to perform this service. 

"Colony collapse is a major issue that affects so many different facets of life and we are very excited to play even this small role in combating this issue," she said. "Additionally, we are thrilled to get our students passionate about these issues because ultimately they will be the ones working toward solving these kinds of problems in the future. Aside from that, bees are incredibly interesting to study and a lot about animal behavior can be learned from studying their life, culture and habitat."

Keely McLeod, another Notre Dame sophomore in the botany class, said working with the bees is a rare opportunity for high school students.

"Not many people our age have the opportunity to learn about bees this way and understand their impact on the environment, so I wanted to get involved to learn about it myself," she said. "I also think that is important to study bees and their habitats because they have such a large impact on the environment. Without them, many plants would not be pollinated, so studying them is of great importance for our planet."

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About Notre Dame 
Notre Dame is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named Michigan's best 50 Catholic high school three of the last four years ( Notre Dame's lower and middle schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All Notre Dame schools have been authorized by International Baccalaureate as "World Schools" and the entire institution is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers. It is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame, visit the school's home page at