, March 24, 2009 (ENS) – Honeybees across the country are dying by the millions due to colony collapse disorder and other environmental factors, causing many growers of fruits, nuts and vegetables to wonder how their future crops will be pollinated. A study released today shows that wild bees, which are not affected by the deadly disorder, may become a pollination alternative.
Authors Julianna Tuell and and Rufus Isaacs of Michigan State University and John Ascher of the American Museum of Natural History conducted a three-year study of bees on 15 southwestern Michigan blueberry farms. Using traps and direct observation, the researchers identified 166 bee species, 112 of which were active during the blueberry blooming period.
Bumblebee on blueberry blossoms (Photo by J.G. Franks)
Their article, "Wild Bees of the Michigan Highbush Blueberry Agroecosystem," published in the "Annals of the Entomological Society of America," shows that many of these species visit more flowers per minute and deposit more pollen per visit than honey bees and most of them are potential blueberry pollinators.
"This should help growers know what kinds of bees are in the fields so that they can make informed decisions about whether they should modify crop management practices in order to help conserve natural populations of bees," said Dr. Tuell.
Highbush blueberry is a native North American crop that depends upon pollen movement by bees for high fruit set and large berries. Commercial blueberry farms use honey bees for pollination, but there is concern regarding their long-term sustainability as crop pollinators.
Unlike honey bees, which live together in hives, most of the bees found by the authors were solitary bees that nest in the soil or in wood cavities.
While soil–nesting bees may be difficult to manage, Tuell and her colleagues see potential for cavity–nesting bees, such as several species of mason bees, to be managed by growers who can support their populations by providing nesting materials.
Besides blueberries, many of the species in this study also visit cherries, apples, and cranberries, and managed mason bees are already being used to pollinate cherry orchards.
Pennsylvania homeowners and gardeners are learning to promote healthy honeybee populations through a new program at Penn State University.
With funding support from ice cream manufacturer Haagen Dazs, the Penn State Master Gardeners program last year launched a statewide campaign to establish 40 pollinator-friendly community demonstration gardens and to educate home gardeners about how they can provide safe havens for honeybees and other struggling pollinators.
Honeybee on a Virginia spiderwort blossom (Photo by Sakichin)
The program focuses on creating landscapes that can strengthen and increase native pollinator populations, explained Ginger Pryor, extension associate in horticulture and state Master Gardener coordinator. "Because landscapes have been extremely fragmented due to urbanization, suburbanization and development, we would like to have homeowners and gardeners rethinking their space."
When land is developed, the new landscapes often are planted to grass with a few shrubs and trees, but Pryor says that without blooming plants to serve as food sources bees have to fly miles for food and pollen. "Hives under that strain probably won't survive through the year."
She suggests that homeowners consider pollinators when selecting plants for a landscape. "Start thinking about blooming," Pryor urges. "Instead of going out and picking an evergreen shrub, pick one that blooms. Maple and oak trees are some of our region's first bloomers, and many of our native shrubs are great nectar feeders."
The pollinator-friendly gardening program began last year with the development of 40 demonstration gardens across Pennsylvania. Maintained by local Master Gardeners, each garden is required to grow eight specific pollinator-friendly plants and must be free of pesticides, preserve potential pollinator nesting sites and provide an available water source.
"Our concern is making sure we have safe environments for our pollinators where they can gather pollen to make honey and enable plants to reproduce," Pryor said.
This year at each of the 40 demonstration gardens, Master Gardeners will present workshops about pollinators such as how to create habitats, planting flowering herbs, backyard composting and using pollinator plants in cooking, crafts and gifts.
The second phase is a pollinator-friendly certification program that will take effect this year. "Homeowners who are implementing pollinator-friendly practices will have the option to have their property certified as pollinator friendly," Pryor says. "This is similar to the wildlife-habitat certification program available through the National Wildlife Federation."
The program's final goal is to work with garden centers and retailers to place informational material in stores to help shoppers easily identify pollinator-friendly plants.
"There are a lot of small things that homeowners can do to help provide for native pollinators that won't change their landscape dramatically," Pryor said. "The pollinator-friendly gardening program is designed to help communities do their part to help save our bees."
Across the country at the University of California, Davis, a garden design team can show them how it's done. Landscape architects Donald Sibbett and Ann Baker, interpretative planner Jessica Brainard and exhibit designer Chika Kurotaki, working as a team, have won the international bee-friendly garden design competition. The winning design will be built this summer with a grant of $125,000 to the UC Davis Department of Entomology from Haagen Dazs.
"We'll not only be providing a pollen and nectar source for the millions of bees on Bee Biology Road, but we will also be demonstrating the beauty and value of pollinator gardens," said design competition coordinator Melissa Borel, program manager for the California Center for Urban Horticulture. "My hope is that it will inspire everyone to plant for pollinators!"
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.
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