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Beekeepers work hard for the honey, despite changing tupelo forest

Van Morrison sang about it, Peter Fonda starred in a movie about it, and people from all over the world will pay top dollar just to get some of it.

It's tupelo honey, a honey so distinct, light and smooth that people describe it as they would a fine wine. But the future of tupelo honey production may not be so sweet.

Florida State University geography Professor J. Anthony Stallins and doctoral student Kelly Watson are studying factors that could affect the future of beekeeping operations in Northwest Florida - one of the only places in the world where tupelo honey is produced commercially. Watson has a $15,000 grant from the U.S. Community Forestry Fellowship for Dissertation Research to work with beekeepers and study the tupelo forests surrounding Wewahitchka, Fla. "Wewa," as the locals say, is a small town adjoining the Apalachicola and Chipola rivers and serves as the unofficial capital of tupelo honey.

"We're hoping to paint a comprehensive picture of the challenges that face the beekeepers," Stallins said. "I don't think the public knows how hard it is to produce honey. We want more awareness of the social context of beekeeping and how environmental change and sociopolitical and economic factors play out to influence the use and access to tupelo forest."

Some beekeepers say that every year they seem to be getting less honey for their efforts. Stallins and Watson will explore the degree to which changing river hydrology, exotic pests, land development and other factors are affecting tupelo honey production, an important regional industry that contributes about $2.4 million a year to Florida's economy.

The researchers' findings will allow beekeepers to develop collective strategies to defend their livelihood, Watson said. That's important because helping the beekeepers will in turn help the survival of the forests along the Apalachicola River floodplain, one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in North America.
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Source:Florida State University


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