Marla Spivak, a University of Minnesota entomologist who has won a MacArthur grant, spoke with Morning Edition's Cathy Wurzer on Tuesday. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Cathy Wurzer: Where were you when you found out?
Marla Spivak: I was in my office. They called me from the MacArthur Foundation. I said 'Oh my goodness!' They had me sit down first. They actually set me up. They said somebody was coming to do a freelance story about me. ... It's very exciting.
Wurzer: How did you become interested in entomology?
Spivak: I read a book on honey bees and that was it. I was hooked. I was 18 years old, then I went to work for a commercial beekeeper and I was hooked on bees.
Wurzer: What is it about bees that so interests you?
Spivak: Their social behaviors are really interesting to me. Their behaviors in general and how they can act as an organism. And also the beekeepers that work with them are really interesting to me.
Wurzer: What are you hoping to find as you're out in the field?
Spivak: We're looking at bee health in general. I have many projects going on at once. ... We're looking at different landscapes, trying to understand the floral resources and how they might effect honey bee health.
Wurzer: Disease has really hit honey bee colonies hard. There are about half as many colonies in the U.S. as there were 60 years ago. What are your theories as to why this is happening?
Spivak: Honey bees are suffering from many things. One of them is nutrition -- there's just not enough flowers out there for bees. Another one is pesticide use, and this is in urban and agricultural setting. The other one is just their own diseases and parasites and the combination of that just puts them over the edge.
Wurzer: Some people might be listening and say, 'OK, well, but these are bees, they're insects.' How do you respond to that?
Spivak: Bees are our most important pollinators of our fruits and vegetable crops. They're super important for the nutritional quality of our diet.
Wurzer: What does this do for your career? Where do you want to go next?
Spivak: There's infinite possibilities. I have some ideas that I've been wanting to do for the past couple of years on ways to help bees and beekeepers, and I think this will help me implement those.
Wurzer: How do you plan on celebrating?
Spivak: I have no idea. Right now I'm off to the dentist, so that will sober me up.
Wurzer: Anything to add?
Spivak: I would like to say that my colleagues and students, the people I work with at the university, make me look really good. So I thank everybody that works with me. And to be recognized for the work we're doing is really awesome.
(MPR reporter Elizabeth Dunbar transcribed this interview.)