A chance encounter led Nebraska’s Rogan Tokach to a lifelong passion for bees.
While sitting at a county fair, the then 12-year-old from Abilene, Kansas noticed a beekeeper’s viewing hive. His curiosity was piqued.
“At that time, I always knew bees were important, but not that important,” Tokach said.
A year later, Tokach had his first hive and unknowingly began a career path.
“I went back there every day to try and find the queen,” Tokach said. “I made a game out of it.”
Tokach began doing research and attending 4-H fairs. He sold honeypots and donated the profits, while winning scholarships.
He earned an undergraduate degree at Kansas State University and is currently a master’s student in entomology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. After graduating from undergrad, Tokach was eager to work professionally with bees and was attracted to the faculty in Nebraska.
Tokach had previously worked as a summer intern for the WE Geological Survey on a project led by Autumn Smart, who had recently been hired by Nebraska U as an assistant professor.
“I had also heard his wife, Dr. (Judy) Wu-Smart, speak several times at different beekeeping events,” he said. “Both were already quite well known in beekeeping circles even though they were both relatively unknown to ONE.
“I contacted them, excited about the opportunity to potentially enter as a graduate student. Additionally, Dr. Wu-Smart’s Ph.D. I was very interested in working with pesticides and hoped to work more in this field.
Tokach had hands-on learning experience in Nebraska. He has studied many aspects of bees, including what affects their success and failure, and is working to see where his research can have the most impact.
“I would say coming to Nebraska was because of those connections and interests with Drs. Smart and Wu-Smart,” Rogan said. “When I visited the Bee Lab they seemed delighted to have me there and went through some of the research they were currently working on. I thought the Bee Lab was a great place and I was interested in continuing my studies and learn from them.
This summer, Tokach has been busy doing some field work, visiting several hives across the state. He hatches bees, raises them and studies how two different environments, one of which is polluted with pesticides, impact the behaviors of worker bees and the general population.
Beginning in 2015, AltEn, an ethanol plant in Mead, began processing pesticide-treated seeds that were no longer viable to plant. That same year, the A Bee Lab began seeing colony failures in their apiaries located in and around the Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Center, a site where they had successfully raised bees for more than 30 years. The factory has since been closed. However, the area around the plant still shows large-scale environmental pollution.
“My research focuses on the impact on the colony that these bees experience,” Tokach said. “I monitor bee behavior to see how the actions and health of bees in the area compare to my control site. “I monitor to see how the site affects the queens in the environment, as well as the workers. If workers exhibit accelerated aging, a problem that can occur when exposed to pesticides, this can have adverse overall effects on colony functions and lead to colony failure.
And, Tokach did his own work with a lab team of bees, alternating between queen bee observation and worker bee behavioral trails.
After earning her master’s degree in December, Tockach plans to pursue doctoral studies at Auburn University with a continued focus on bee health. He said he would like to continue his career in the Midwest.
“I hope to contribute to research that will help bees in the end,” he said.