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CU Denver Bee Project

Creating a Sustainable Space for Bees through Science


The CU Denver Bee Story

The CU Denver Bee Project commenced May 2016 with a 20-hive apiary on a farm in Wheat Ridge, CO.  The honey bees were relocated to the CU Downtown campus in March 2017 to focus research on the urban environment.  They are currently located on the rooftop of the CU Student Commons building off of Speer and Larimer Streets. There are also three research apiaries in Littleton, CO and another surrounded by agricultural fields in western CO. Honey bees are docile creatures and unless they are messed with, will not harm you. Many native bees do not even sting and are often mistaken for flies or wasps. Honey bees help pollinate crops and are domesticated animals (as are farm animals like chickens) that people in the urban environment can manage in their backyard and connect with the environment. Native bees are also very important pollinators, often more so than honey bees, and building houses for them and planting pollinator friendly plants helps them thrive in an urban environment with already scarce resources. However, honey bees are also a keystone species and can outcompete native bees and other pollinators for resources if not properly managed. Some of our native pollinators are in significant decline due to several environmental and human factors, including competition with honey bees. Therefore, the project goals are to both educate and find ways of sustainably and safely caring for all bees in the Denver urban environment.


The long-term goals of the project are to:

  • Conduct research on beekeeper practices, bee health and foraging patterns in the urban and suburban environment.

  • Understanding the dynamics between native pollinators and honeybees.

  • Educate CU students, staff, and the community about the interdependence of pollinators and human food sources, and modeling best-practice methods in the management of honeybee hives in populated locations along the CO Front Range.

  • Collaborate with university, public and private groups on honey bee sustainability and management, and food production.

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The fun part

Resource availability for bees along a urban-wildland gradient


We are examining pollen coming into hives along a urban to wildland gradient to determine foraging patterns as they relate to human land use in the Denver metro area. Using high resolution remote sensing data to identify key bee plant species and then comparing this with pollen abundance coming into the hives we can estimate the availability of resources along the gradient.

Research in progress.......

Beekeeping practices and colony health on the Front Range


The beekeeper’s worst enemy is the bee mite, Varroa destructor, which carries a range of diseases that can result in honey bee diseases and even colony death if not properly managed and treated. Urban beekeeping has exploded in Denver; yet, many novice beekeepers are unaware that Varroa infestations in a single hive can contribute to a large-scale “epidemic” by spreading mites between urban and commercial beehives. We will be conducting a survey of beekeepers in the Denver metro area to learn about how they keep bees, their struggles and their view of bee health.

Bee diversity and abundance along an urban-wildland gradient


How well do bee populations fair in a semi-arid urban environment such as Denver? What MS Environmental Science graduate, Kristen Birdshire, found in her thesis research was a decrease in both abundance and diversity with increasing impervious surface. However, where there were islands of bee-loving plants bees thrived. So dig up the pavement and plant flowers and trees!

Go with the Flow?!


In 2015, a crowdfunding campaign raised over 12 million dollars to support a new beehive construction called the Flow hive.  The new hive frames allow honey to be harvested directly ("honey on tap") from the hive with little disturbance to the bees. The inventors claim the method is less stressful on the bees and increases honey production. Yet, no research is available to substantiate the claims.  We compared the Flow and traditional Langstroth hive constructions to determine if there were any significant differences in bee health, honey production, foraging patterns, and maintenance of the hive. Flow hives produced half the honey of the traditional construction, took more time all around, and had fewer mites and heavier brood boxes. Pollen abundances were different between hive types; however, bee microbiome communities were similar.

Pesticides, Bees, & Human Health


Pesticides are a big problem for bee and human health. From widespread aerial applications and drift of pesticides in rural agricultural landscapes to homeowners use of them to save their roses from Japanese beetle outbreaks each summer, we are experiencing significant impacts on our research hives.

Pollen Atlas


Pollen and herbarium specimens for different plant taxa in Colorado

The Bee Team

It takes a colony


Christy Briles

Dr. B grew up on a small farm on the rural western slope of Colorado. While the farm never had bees, her interest in pollen drew her into the bee world. With the help and training from some community beekeepers, and some very keen students, the CU Bee Project was born in 2015.

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