A University of Kentucky entomologist recently was recognized by her colleagues around the world for her innovative research and teaching practices. Clare Rittschof, assistant professor in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, received the Early Career Innovation Award from the Entomological Society of America.
With more than 7,000 members, the society is the world’s largest organization that serves the needs of entomologists and individuals in related industries.
“Clare is one of the most creative, productive and interdisciplinary young researchers in the field of honey bee biology, management and health,” said Christina Grozinger, a distinguished professor of entomology and director of the center for pollinator research at Penn State. “Her studies have provided unique insights into how the social environment influences bee behavior and health, which have opened new fields of study. Clare is also a dedicated educator and communicator and has used her research as a platform to engage with students, stakeholders and policymakers.”
Grozinger and Gene Robinson, entomology professor and director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois, nominated Rittschof for the award that recognizes young entomologists for their innovative contributions to the field.
“Clare is highly deserving of this award,” Robinson said. “She already has distinguished herself as a very productive scientist and a thought leader in her field, as well as demonstrating a deep interest in advancing science and the goals and mission of the Entomological Society of America through creative and dedicated public engagement.”
Rittschof studies bee behaviors and how they influence overall bee health. She combines neuroscience, genomics, and landscape and behavior ecology approaches to study how bees’ social interactions, nutrition and other environmental factors shape their behavior. She discovered defensive bees tend to be healthier and are more able to develop Varroa mite resistance and pesticide tolerance. She is studying the mechanisms behind these healthier bees with the help of beekeeper citizen scientists. Her work on social behavior is relevant beyond entomology, and as a result she works with professionals in fields including sociology, human development and health sciences.
In addition, Rittschof teaches two new courses at UK titled, “Bees and People” and the “Neuroscience of Pollination” that explore the biological and social connections between bees and humans. She encourages her students to find a scientific area they love studying and pursue their own unique multidisciplinary research path based on their passions.
“I am particularly honored to receive an award focused on innovation. I think it is probably every scientist’s dream to be recognized for doing something new and different,” Rittschof said. “In my research and teaching, I try to find the connections among very different fields of biology and entomology – it is an approach that is exciting but challenging. I am proud to be a part of a community that recognizes the importance of bringing diverse perspectives to bear on complex issues like pollinator health.”
— Katie Pratt, UK College of Agriculture