The challenges facing the world’s bee populations will be front and centre as bee experts from across North America descend on the University of Guelph Aug. 10 to 14.

The Eastern Apicultural Society is holding its annual conference at U of G, returning to Canada for the first time since 1992. More than 500 bee enthusiasts will attend and take part in more than 100 talks and demonstrations.

The meeting comes at a time when pollinators are declining globally and many countries, including Canada, are taking steps such as reducing the use of of neonicotinoids in an attempt to protect bee populations.

“Pollination and pesticides are a hot issue,” said environmental biology professor Ernesto Guzman, director of U of G’s Honeybee Research Centre and a lead organizer of the conference.

“North American honey bee colonies being lost at a rate of more than 30 per cent a year, and Ontario lost more than half its colonies in 2014.”

The challenges are complex and potential solutions need to be examined, Guzman said.

“Neonicotinoids are not the only reason for increased mortality rates, parasites, diseases and other stressors are also among the causes. This conference will discuss research on all of these topics as well as practical moves beekeepers can do to reduce their losses,” he said.

There will be a special panel discussion on pesticides and bee health Aug. 12 that will include Guzman and environmental sciences professor Nigel Raine, the Rebanks Family Chair in Pollinator Conservation.

There will also be sessions on bee disease, best management practices, bee biology, pollination and agriculture, hive products, beekeeping development, and bee breeding.

In addition, a one-day camp for students in grades four to six will be held on August 12. The annual honey show, where samples are judged, takes place on August 14, with the winners announced that evening at the closing dinner.

Guzman said that pollinator health is a subject of significant importance, both environmentally and economically.

“Bees contribute more than $2 billion worth of agricultural crops annually through their pollination of plants in Canada,” he said.

“Worldwide, this figure exceeds $200 billion per year. In addition, bees produce honey worth more than $100 million in Canada alone.”

He added that the conference’s return to Canada after 23 years speaks to U of G’s reputation.

“We can view this as recognition of the high-quality research and academic activities in apiculture conducted by our researchers, students and faculty.”