Dr. Cory Sheffield, one of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum’s newest staff members, has been described as a world authority on Canadian bee species.
It’s a title that’s well-deserved.
He recently returned from a conference in Italy where he summarized Canadian scientists’ knowledge of our country’s bees, and discussed how Canadian and European scientists might combine research efforts to better understand bee communities globally.
Sheffield has discovered new bee species, but one of his career highlights was rediscovering a species of bee—the Macropis Cuckoo Bee—that was thought to be extinct. Until he rediscovered it, the bee hadn’t been found in North America since the 1950s.
Sheffield’s love of nature began when he was a child growing up in the tiny Nova Scotia village of Lockhartville, a village of fewer than 1000 people. Sheffield spent more time outdoors than indoors growing up. He enjoyed exploring the forests surrounding his community, gathering ideas he would later lay down on paper in the form of pencil drawings, a pastime he still pursues today.
He always knew that he wanted to explore a career in science, particularly one related to nature.
After high school, he studied biology at Acadia University, where he completed a Bachelor of Science with Honours degree and a Master of Science degree. Sheffield’s interest in bees started when he was still an undergraduate student. He wrote his honours thesis on blueberry pollination. “That was my introduction to bees,” Sheffield said. “And I’ve never really looked back”.
Sheffield completed his PhD at the University of Guelph in 2006. He then worked as a research associate with York University until starting his current position as Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the RSM.
He looks forward to exploring Saskatchewan’s landscape. There are about 200 known species of bees living in Saskatchewan, but Sheffield is confident the list will become much longer.
“I know with a few swings of my net and some nice bee habitat, I can probably increase the number of species known in Saskatchewan by quite a bit,” Sheffield said. Saskatchewan is rich in biodiversity but it takes a lot of work to discover the secrets.
In the summers, Sheffield tries to spend the majority of his working hours outdoors. He’s travelled across North America, camping and collecting bees for identification and research, for up to four months at a time. He is always sure to balance lab work with field work, however. And he looks forward to sharing his enthusiasm for insects in museum displays and with the public.
His desk space at the RSM’s Laboratory Building contains more than paper and files. A large microscope sits on his desk. And bee specimens, pinned and labeled, are stored in drawers so he can easily access them for current projects. (Most of the bees don’t resemble the fluffy yellow and black image some people associate with the word “bee.” Many bees are tiny and resemble winged ants more than bumble bees).
One of the research questions Sheffield hopes to answer while working in Saskatchewan is: How can we manage wild bees to help pollinate our province’s crops?
Wild bee pollination has the potential to be an eco-friendly, cost-effective method for enhancing the quality and quantity of Saskatchewan crops.
“There are 800 species of bees in Canada that show promise for management if we learn more about them first,” he said.
Sheffield said it would be tough for humans worldwide to survive without bees. Bees pollinate a significant number of plant food sources that humans depend on. They also support wild, ecological communities by pollinating plants, such as wild flowers, that animals rely on for food.
Sheffield is passionate about plants, pollination and insects, especially bees. He is eager to start his research on bees in the province.
“Bees and other insects perform a vital service for plants and people,” Sheffield said. “I’m excited to continue my career at the RSM. I can’t wait to share what I know about insects with the people of Saskatchewan.”