by Kathy Keatley Garvey
UC Davis Dept. of Entomology and Nematology
Honey bee scientist Elina Lastro Niño of Pennsylvania State University (PSU), University Park, known for her expertise on honey bee queen biology, chemical ecology, and genomics, is the newly hired Extension apiculturist at the University of California, Davis. She will join the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty in September, replacing Eric Mussen, who will retire June 30 after 38 years in the position.
Niño currently works with Professor Christina Grozinger, director of the PSU Center for Pollinator Research. Niño holds a postdoctoral fellowship funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA).
“We are excited about Elina joining the Bee Biology program at UC Davis,” said Michael Parrella, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “ We have been in a rebuilding mode for the past few years and Elina joins the team of Dr. Neal Williams, pollination ecology and bee biology with emphasis on foraging behavior; and Dr. Brian Johnson, genetics, behavior, evolution, and health of honey bees. Dr. Niño will conduct problem-solving research focused on honey bees and those crops in need of pollination services.”
“In addition, with the establishment of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, adjacent to our bee biology facility, Dr. Niño will be able to effectively provide outreach to backyard beekeepers that represent a growing enterprise in California. In addition to current bee biology faculty, Elina will be supported by Dr. Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology who studies bumble bee behavior and systematics, and, of course, Dr. Eric Mussen whom she is replacing. We are pleased that Dr. Mussen has agreed to remain active in an emeritus capacity and will be advising Dr. Niño on both her extension program and research activities.”
Said Grozinger: “Dr. Niño is internationally recognized for her work on queen biology, and has collaborated broadly with several key honey bee researchers in the United States, including David Tarpy, Peter Teal, and Jerry Hayes, as well as researchers in Israel, Europe and Australia.”
Niño said she is very excited to start working closely with the California beekeepers and growers to develop sustainable approaches to bee management. “The UC Davis bee lab has such a long, outstanding contribute to this great program,” she said.
“Elina is a very accomplished scientist,” said Mussen. “Her research involves the reproductive processes involved in queen bee mating, including the impacts of oviduct manipulation, insemination volume and insemination substances. The induced changes include measurable behavioral, physiological and molecular alterations that occur, including differences in behavioral interactions between queens and worker bees.” Niño said considering her interests in honey bee queen health she anticipates fruitful collaborations with the California queen breeders.
As the Extension apiculturist, Niño will remain involved in basic honey bee biology studies, moving the applied research forward. She will devote 70 percent of her appointment to conducting practical, problem-solving research projects and interact with the beekeepers and industry concerns.
In her research, Niño demonstrated that different components of the mating process (oviduct manipulation, insemination volume, and insemination substance) drive different post-mating changes in honey bee queens, Grozinger said. “Furthermore, she showed that queens signal their mating status and mating quality to worker bees through their pheromones, and workers preferentially respond to well-mated queens.”
As the recipient of prestigious USDA-NIFA postdoctoral fellowship, Niño expanded her program to study the socioeconomic factors affecting the success of local queen breeding programs, and spearheaded the annual PSU Honey Bee Queen Rearing Workshop, Grozinger said.
Niño received her bachelor’s degree in animal science from Cornell University in 2003; her master’s degree in entomology at North Carolina State University and her doctorate at PSU in 2012.
Niño has a varied entomology background. While working on her bachelor’s degree at Cornell, she was involved in studies on darkling beetle control in poultry houses, pan-trapped horse flies, and surveyed mosquitoes in New York state. While working toward her master’s degree at North Carolina State University, she studied dung beetle nutrient cycling and its effect on grass growth, effects of methoprene (insect grown regular) on dung beetles in field and laboratory settings, and assisted in a workshop on forensic entomology.
As a USDA/NIFA postdoctoral fellow, Niño is contributing to honey bee stock improvement programs through her research on proteins in honey bee semen. She also is cooperatively reviewing the effects of Israeli Acute Bee Paralysis Virus, Deformed Wing Virus and Nosema on honey bees on a molecular level.
A member of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), Niño received a number of high honors as an entomology graduate student. She won the coveted John Henry Comstock Graduate Student Award from the Eastern Branch of ESA in 2013; first place in a poster student competition for the President’s Prize at the ESA Indianapolis meeting in 2006, and also a first-place poster award at the North Carolina Entomological Society’s Raleigh meeting in 2006.
Other awards include the 2012 Student Recognition Award in Insect Physiology, Biochemistry, Toxicology, and Molecular Biology from the International Congress on Insect Neurochemistry and Neurophysiology; 2012 PSU Alumni Association Dissertation Award; 2011 Lillian and Alex Feir Graduate Student Travel Award in Insect Physiology, Biochemistry or Molecular Biology, Entomological Foundation; 2011 Eastern Apicultural Society Student Award; 2011 Lorenzo Langstroth Fellowship, PSU Center for Pollinator Research; 2011 Michael E. Duke Memorial Scholarship, PSU Department of Entomology; and 2010 Sahakian Family Fund for Ag Research Travel Award, PSU College of Ag Sciences.
Niño placed first in a student paper presentation at the 2008 American Bee Research Conference in Sacramento, and received a 2007 scholarship from the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, Sacramento. The North Carolina Entomological Society named her the 2006 Outstanding MS Student of the Year.