Urban Honey Bee Project

Located on the rooftops of the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons and The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design, the Urban Honey Bee Project is a unique interdisciplinary undergraduate research program focused on the impact of urban habitats on honey bees.

May 20 has been designated by the United Nations as World Bee Day, aimed at raising awareness of the importance of pollinators, the threats they face, and their contribution to sustainable development. 

Many of Georgia Tech’s research projects focus on improving the human condition and nurturing the well-being of human communities, but the Urban Honey Bee project is all about improving conditions for these beneficial social insects.

The director of the Urban Honey Bee Project is Jennifer Leavey, a principal academic professional in the School of Biological Sciences and the College of Sciences.

“The project allows Georgia Tech students to apply what they are learning in science, engineering, and computing courses to the study of urban pollinators. This could lead to improvements in urban food production or a better understanding of urban ecosystems,” Leavey says.

Not only does it provide honey to students, but the Urban Honey Bee Project has also been tagging bees with RFID chips, which are scanned by readers installed at hive entrances. This allows tracking of the honey bees so they know which bees are coming and going. 

“Kind of like mini BuzzCards.”

The group is interested in the mating behavior of bees in urban areas. Genetic diversity among male bees in honey bee mating areas can lead to stronger, healthier honey bee colonies.

“We tag male bees with RFID chips, which allows us to know how old they are when they start taking mating flights, and how weather, pollution, nutrition, and pesticide exposures affect their behavior. We can also correlate this behavior with genetic markers,” Leavey explains.

This work was inspired by Julia Mahood, an Atlanta-area master beekeeper and founder of the citizen science project mapmydca.com. She is identifying honey bee mating areas (also known as drone congregation areas) using mechanical drones.  

Many wild flowering plant species along with food crops in our ecosystem depend on pollinators and it is crucial to learn as much as we can about honey bees, and all pollinators, to safeguard their future and ours.

To learn more about the Urban Honey Bee Project visit bees.gatech.edu.