Interview with a social insect scientist: Harmen Hendriksma

Bild Harmen Hendriksma

IS: Who are you, and what do you do?

HH: My name is Harmen Hendriksma. I aim to understand and identify drivers and threats to bee vitality. I currently work on monitoring bees in agricultural landscapes throughout Germany.

IS: How did you develop an interest in your research?

HH: As a nature boy, I wandered endlessly through the meadows of Friesland. Ants, butterflies, and wild bees strangely enchanted me. Then one magical day, a beekeeper passed my way, and this he said to me: “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love bees and be loved in return”.

IS: What is your favorite social insect, and why?

HH: My first love was the bumblebee Bombus lapidarius. Yet I was given a hive as a youngster, and ever since, I have been in love with the honey bee, Apis mellifera. Would you oppose having a socialist matricentric society of vegetarians, for a change?

IS: What is the best moment/discovery in your research so far? What made it so memorable?

HH: We found bees to counter nutritional deficiencies; not only to differentially cover their protein and carbohydrate needs, but also particular needs for essential fatty acids and amino acids. Memorable to me is that many findings come together with crippling self-doubt.

IS: Do you teach or do outreach/science communication? How do you incorporate your research into these areas?

HH: I generally follow a biocentric perspective. Whilst teaching Animal Behavior at Iowa State University, the 145 students felt that I sincerely cared for them, and very much care about all other animals too. I never shoehorn bees into lectures. In Germany, Israel, California, and Iowa, I gave many extension talks to beekeepers. I felt those folks all enjoyed hearing stories from a passionate bee scientist who sees beekeepers as facilitators to let bees shine in the spotlight.

IS: What do you think are some of the important current questions in social insect research, and what’s essential for future research?

HH: Many wild bee populations are in decline, and many honey bee colonies dwindle and die. I thusly think that drivers of bee demise need elucidation. Regarding colony structure, e.g., it would be helpful to know the pathogeneses of the many different viral diseases that plague colonies. Future research would benefit from insight into interactions (and maybe synergies) between different stressors, such as nutritional stress and disease.

IS: What research questions generate the biggest debate in social insect research at the moment?

HH: I’m biased toward the nutrition field. There is debate on if generalist bees actively balance deficient colony nutrition, and, how.

IS: What is the last book you read? Would you recommend it? Why or why not?

HH: Spread the word; Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari. To me, the book eloquently illustrates a misnomer; Homo sapiens, since pestis would have been a better fit.

IS: Outside of science, what are your favorite activities, hobbies, or sports?

HH: I have haphazard homey hobbies. I recently inoculated wetted pine wood shavings with mycelium – to grow mushrooms in my kitchen. I hung a birdhouse and a bee hotel outside my home. I glued a pigeon skeleton together that I found in my chimney. I made myself curtains on a sowing machine. And, I stream lots of movies and series – soon also to select new films for an international film festival here in Braunschweig. Once or twice per week, I go out for drinks and bites, targeting unknown cozy places.

IS: How do you keep going when things get tough?

HH: I tend to just keep pumping in hours and simply keep rocking. I ask for support when needing a boost.

IS: If you were to go live on an uninhabited island and could only bring three things, what would you bring? Why?

HH: I would not bring anything. I’d go out adventuring like a Minecraft survival world. I’d punch down a tree with my fist to make some wooden tools, eat kelp and mobs, etc.

IS: Who do you think has had the most considerable influence on your science career?

HH: During my Ph.D., Stephan Härtel showed me how to practice science. His approach, trust, and patience were most formative.

IS: What advice would you give to someone hoping to be a social insect researcher in the future?

HH: Our social insect researcher society has super kind people that provide astounding support. Take the opportunity and learn from us, work with us, and simply become a part of our field.

IS: What is your favorite place science has taken you?

HH: Dangling above a pool with dolphins in Eilat, Israel, to spot an invasive Apis florea bee colony. I ❤ Israel.

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