Marine Biologist, Honeybee Researcher and 21 Others Take Home $500,000 MacArthur Grants

Marine Biologist, Honeybee Researcher and 21 Others Take Home $500,000 MacArthur Grants

Michele Berger
Published: 09/29/2010

Marine biologist Kelly Benoit-Bird, one of 23 MacArthur Fellows. Courtesy  John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The 23 newest MacArthur Fellows recently received some pretty exciting news: As part of the 2010 class, they each won a $500,000 no-strings-attached five-year grant for showing “exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future." The lucky winners, which the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced yesterday, include a sculptor, a journalist-turned-television writer, a type designer and—our focuses in this group—a marine biologist who listens to sea animals and an entomologist who studies honeybees.

First, marine biologist Kelly Benoit-Bird. The 34-year-old Oregon State University professor is a good listener. And lucky her, she gets to hear what few others do: marine creatures—from the smallest zooplankton to some of the largest mammals—below the ocean’s surface. “I’m interested in how they make a living,” she says, “how they find their food while they try to avoid becoming someone else’s dinner.”

Her work focuses on using technology like SONAR to learn how animals up and down the food web behave as both predator and prey. Her end goal is to “unravel the behavior components” of this complex marine ecosystem and maybe, learn a thing or two from the sounds these animals generate. She says the MacArthur grant allows her to take risks with her work that she might have been otherwise forced to avoid.


Marla Spivak hopes to use her money to fund big-picture visions she has about how to help honeybees, her love since age 18. “Bees are huge pollinators,” says the 55-year-old University of Minnesota professor. “They impact our food quality and food security in major ways.” Spivak’s aim is to keep bees healthy—a much harder task lately given the triple threat of fewer available flowers, more pesticides and bee diseases.


She’s fighting back by creating disease-resistant honeybee strains based on findings from hygienic behavior research (the bees essentially kick out infected pupae before they’re born to prevent infecting the entire hive). “We’re breeding bees that can defend themselves against disease and parasites,” Spivak says. “We’re giving bees a way to get back on their own six feet.”

For more about Spivak, Benoit-Bird, or any of the other Fellows, visit macfound.org