Plan Bee researcher profile: Elizabeth Frost

16.08.21

Plan Bee is a national genetic improvement program using innovative breeding technologies to transform the performance of honey bees in Australia. The project team are located throughout the country and are experts on everything from genetics, entomology and beekeeping practices.

As the nationwide program rolls out, we will be introducing key members of the team to understand more about the people driving this program forward.

In this researcher profile we introduce Elizabeth Frost from the NSW Department of Primary Industries, one of the lead researchers on the Plan Bee program.

Tell us a bit about your background

After studying medical and forensic entomology at university in my native USA and working in several insect labs, I started volunteering at the Bee Lab at the University of California, Davis.

After developing a strong interest in bees I continued to hone my beekeeping knowledge and skills working as field and lab manager at the UC Davis Harry Laidlaw Honey Bee Research Facility, as a technician sampling commercial beekeepers’ hives in California, North Dakota and Minnesota for pests, diseases and pesticides with the Bee Informed Partnership.

I also started my own company, contracting honey bee artificial insemination services for US queen breeders producing over 60 per cent of North America’s queen bees.

In 2013, I headed south to Australia to further my career and research and have ended up working as a Technical Specialist – Bees with NSW DPI, based in the Hunter Valley. It really is my dream job!

What drew you to an interest in bees?

I learned that studying insects could be a career when I was at University of California, Davis. My early research was focused on medical and forensic entomology (think insects, diseases and death).

But I had a big decision to make – which animal would be my target organism? I’d wanted to get back into agriculture in some way, having family working as orchadists and farmers – so I was drawn to bees. The more I learnt about the role they play in helping produce 1/3 of the world’s food, the more I knew I wanted to make bees my career.

Can you talk us through a typical working day for you?

I go to sleep and wake up at dawn thinking about the weather and how that will affect the tasks of the day ahead which, in the bee season, may involve

  • Queen breeding activities including preparing queen starter colonies and grafting larvae, feeding sugar syrup and irradiated pollen, maintaining queen breeding colonies, collecting drone semen and inseminating breeder queens, and checking on the health and wellbeing of our artificially inseminated queens. We’re very busy thanks to the breeders that have supported Plan Bee through the donation of hives and queens.
  • Coordinating overall research hive activities with NSW DPI Bee Manager Stanislav Nenov, including the coordination of equipment purchase and maintenance, vehicle maintenance, and management of the 260 hives we have at Tocal as part of the Plan Bee program.
  • Providing policy advice regarding land use impacts on the beekeeping industry – mining, re-zoning, clearing, etc.
  • Natural disaster response for incidents like drought, bushfires and most recently the severe floods that affected many beekeeping areas. I also help tailor industry assistance programs for things like fees subsidies and connect industry to assistance providers.
  • Collaborating with NSW and Australian beekeeping associations, government and researchers regarding training and education, events and grant applications

What is your role in the Plan Bee project?

I am a co-leader focusing on the queen breeding side of the research hive population managed by NSW Department of Primary Industries from Tocal Agricultural College. I collect production, pollination and health trait data from breeder stock sourced from around the country, artificially inseminate breeder queens for breeding research and sale (starting in 2022), develop educational resources, write scientific manuscripts (i.e. honey bee fertility traits, economic value of honey production), and deliver accredited training in queen breeding and pollination Certificate III in Beekeeping units.

What is your vision for Plan Bee?

Plan Bee will stabilise the Australian beekeeping industry by giving beekeepers the skills and knowledge to breed their own quality queens and enter into the queen breeding sector, providing a platform for queen breeders to house their production data and make evidence-based stock selection decisions, and selling breeder queens to queen multipliers supplying the wider industry.

How can interested beekeepers reach out to you?

Follow my research on Twitter: @beeLizFrost or Facebook: @ProfessionalBeekeepers the extensionAUS Professional Beekeepers AgriFutures Australia and NSW DPI extension platform.

Alternatively, get in touch directly via email: elizabeth.frost@dpi.nsw.gov.au

 

Plan Bee (National Honey Bee Genetic Improvement Program) is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as part of its Rural Research and Development for Profit program. The project is further supported by AgriFutures Australia, the Department of Regional NSW, University of Sydney, University of New England Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit, Better Bees WA Inc, Wheen Bee Foundation, Costa Group, Olam, Beechworth Honey, Monson’s Honey and Pollination, South Pacific Seeds, Australian Queen Bee Breeders Association, Australian Honey Bee Industry Council, and commercial beekeepers