Brian Johnson, Ph.D - Behavior, Evolution, and Genetics of Honey Bees, Apiculture
Honey Bee Researcher/Apiculturist Brian Johnson Joins UC Davis Department of Entomology
July 5, 2011
Honey bee researcher/apiculturist Brian Johnson has joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty. One of his bee observation hives at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility is in the background. (Photos by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Brian Johnson holding frame of bees at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
DAVIS--Honey bee researcher and apiculturist Brian R. Johnson, a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley, has joined the faculty of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
He is based at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road and at 396 Briggs Hall.
Michael Parrella, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, welcomed the new assistant professor.
'The Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility has been the site of very innovative bee research over the years that have contributed to the facility's national and international reputation,” Parrella said. “We are excited about hiring Brian Johnson as the new apiculturist at UC Davis as Brian is committed to moving the science of apiculture forward as well as to conducting problem-solving research to help beekeepers, bee breeders and those stakeholders who rely on pollination services provide by honey bees.”
As a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow, Johnson worked with Neil Tsutsui of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management (ESPM) from 2009 until this spring. Earlier, from 2006 to 2009, he served as a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at UC San Diego and the University of Bristol, UK.
Johnson received his doctorate in 2004 from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. in behavioral biology (thesis: “Organization of Work in the Honey Bee”). He obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1998 from the UC San Diego, where he majored in ecology, behavior and evolution.
As a candidate for the UC Davis apicultural position, Johnson presented a lecture at a Department of Entomology seminar in February 2011 on "Organization and Evolution of Honey Bee Societies: Experimental, Theoretical, and Computational Approaches.”
“Although I’ve been studying bees for over 12 years, I still learn something unexpected and important with every new study,” Johnson said. “The colony is like a hugely complex puzzle, with many pieces fitting together in functionally cohesive ways. This brain-teaser aspect of figuring out how a honey bee colony works is I think what first attracted me to bee research.”
A native of Hartford, Conn., Johnson grew up primarily in San Jose but also lived in Omaha, Neb. He has broad interests in evolution, ecology, behavior, genetics, and theoretical biology.
Johnson, who received his doctorate in behavioral biology from Cornell University, is 'interested in integrative biology, which is biological research on a trait at all levels from genes to ecology and behavior.'
“Basically, I’m interested in integrative biology, which is biological research on a trait at all levels from genes to ecology and behavior,” Johnson said.
“In the past (prior to the 1980s) bees were more or less healthy, so little effort went into understanding their basic epidemiology,” Johnson said. “When tracheal mites, and then Varroa moved in, great effort went into controlling these pests, but still little effort went into basic bee epidemiology. Now with colony collapse disorder (CCD), the emphasis is finally transitioning from trying to put out fires--by which I mean control nasty pests of current concern--to both trying to put out fires and understand what causes them in the first place.”
“My hope is that Davis can be at the forefront of this endeavor to both control CCD,” Johnson said, “and to understand what factors underlie a healthy or unhealthy population of honey bees.”
He was the lead author of two research studies published this year, “Taxonomically Restricted Genes Are Associated with Eusocial Evolution in the Honey Bee” (BMC Genomics), and “Nestmate Recognition in Social Insects: Overcoming Physiological Constraints with Collective Decision Making” (Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology).
Last year Johnson served as the lead author of “Self Organization, Natural Selection and Evolution: Cellular Hardware and Genetic Software" (BioScience); “Communication in Social Insect Colonies: the Roles of Signals and Cues in Group Level Coordination of Action" (Behavioral Ecology); "Eliminating the Mystery from the Concept of Emergence" (Biology and Philosophy); “Modeling the Adaptive Role of Negative Signaling in Honey Bee Intraspecific Competition" (Journal of Insect Behavior); “Spatial Effects, Sampling Errors, and Task Specialization in the Honey Bee" (Insectes Sociaux); “Deconstructing the Superorganism: Social Physiology, Groundplans, and Sociogenomics" (Quarterly Review of Biology) and “Division of Labor in Honey Bees: Form, Function, and Proximate Mechanisms" (Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology).
He also teamed with other researchers to publish work in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PloS Genetics, and the Journal of Insect Biology.
Among his awards: the UC President's Postdoctoral Fellowship (2009-2011), project title, "Role of Genotypic Variabiity in Self-Organzing Task Allocation Mechanisms in the Honey Bee"; National Science Foundation (NSF) Minority Postdoctoral Fellowship (2006-2009); and a NSF Predoctoral Fellowship (2000-2003).
Johnson taught biology as an adjunct instructor at West Valley College, Saratoga, Calif., and at Foothill College, Los Altos, Calif. He lectured on "Introduction to Insect Behavior" at UC Berkeley in the fall of 2009 and 2010 and also presented lectures on campus on the evolution and design of superorganisms. As an invited speaker, he discussed "Adaptively Regulated Behavioral Plasticity in the Superorganism" last July at the European Society for Evolutionary Developmental Biology, Paris, and also delivered honey bee presentations over the last several years in Brussels, Belgium; Cambridge, UK, and in Illinois and Arizona, among others.
With the addition of Johnson, UC Davis is re-building its bee biology program. UC Davis lost several professors at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility in recent years due to retirement: Norman Gary (1994), Robbin Thorp (1994), Robert Page Jr. (2004) and Christine Peng (2005). Page, former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and now the vice provost and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Arizona State University, continues to keep his specialized bee stock at UC Davis where bee breeder-geneticist M. Kim Fondrk manages it.
Brian Johnson checks bee health at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Johnson joins the “bee team” of Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976; native pollinator specialist Neal Williams, assistant professor of entomology; veteran bee breeders-geneticists Susan Cobey and M. Kim Fondrk; and staff research associate and beekeeper Elizabeth Frost. Cobey maintains a dual research appointment with Washington State University.
Also lending his expertise is native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp. Although officially retired, he continues his research, outreach and publications work from his office in the Laidlaw facility. He is one of the instructors at The Bee Course, held annually at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz.
The Laidlaw facility is named for Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. (1907-2003), considered "The Father of Honey Bee Genetics." He served on the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty from 1947 until his retirement in 1974. Although retiring in 1974, he continued his research and outreach programs, publishing his last scientific paper at age 87 and his last book at 90. He died at age 96 at his home in Davis.
Brian Johnson's website
--Kathy Keatley Garvey
UC Davis Department of Entomology