$2.1 million enables creation of decision-support tools for pollinator health
The Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State, in collaboration with researchers at the University of California, Davis; the University of Minnesota; and Dickinson College will receive more than $2 million from the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research and the United States Department of Agriculture to translate basic research into online decision support tools to help beekeepers and land managers maintain and expand populations of managed and wild bees.
"We know that pollinators are in decline due to multiple, interacting stressors," said Christina Grozinger, distinguished professor of entomology, director of the Center for Pollinator Research and principal investigator. "However, many of these stressors are out of the control of individual beekeepers, growers or gardeners. Our research will help beekeepers and land managers comprehensively assess their surrounding landscapes so they can have accurate information when they make decisions about how best to support their honey bees or wild bee populations."
Grozinger says that landscape factors — such as the diversity and abundance of flowering plants, the presence or absence of pesticides and the microclimate — can greatly impact the health of both wild and managed pollinators. However, she notes that bees can forage great distances — honey bees can forage over areas greater than 10 square miles — and therefore can be exposed to a broad range of landscape conditions.
The team of researchers plans to develop national maps of forage quality, nesting resource quality, pesticide use and climatic conditions. Together with data provided by a network of cooperating beekeepers and from their own studies, the researchers will use these landscape factors to develop models that allow them to predict how managed and wild bees will fare in a particular location. They will create models for urban, suburban, agricultural and natural landscapes.
"For example, we know that managing for Varroa mite — the major parasite of honey bees — greatly improves honey bees' survival through the winter," said Grozinger. "Our preliminary data suggest that having a high-quality landscape can help reduce the impact of Varroa mites. Similarly, our studies of wild bee abundance and diversity can determine which landscape factors are the primary drivers of wild bee health, allowing land managers to focus their limited resources on improving these parameters."
Additionally, the team from the University of California, Davis, and the University of Minnesota will create a model to determine the most regionally appropriate, cost-effective flowering plant species to meet different stakeholders' needs. For example, the model will provide information about the best mixes of plants to support honey bees, to attract a large diversity of bees or to target key pollinators for a specific region.
"Different stakeholders prefer different plant mixes, depending on their goals," said Neal Williams from the University of California, Davis. "A beekeeper in Minnesota might need a different mix of plant species in different densities than an almond grower in California."
Finally, the research team will work with Azavea, a Philadelphia-based company, to develop online decision support tools that will allow different stakeholders to assess the quality of their landscapes for supporting managed honey bee and wild bee populations. These tools will be incorporated into the existing "Pollinator Mapper" platform, which was co-developed by team member Eric Lonsdorf at the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment to help growers evaluate different approaches for increasing pollination efficiency and yield in their crops.
"These tools will allow stakeholders to easily apply what we'll learn to assess their landscape's likelihood of supporting managed honey bee and wild bee populations under different management regimes, and develop high-quality, cost-effective pollinator plant species mixes to improve the bee forage quality of their landscapes," says Lonsdorf.
Ultimately, the team said, the research, decision support tools and stakeholder networks generated by this project will dramatically improve our understanding of the interacting factors driving losses of both managed and wild bees, and create the resources and partnerships needed to effectively mitigate these declines in a variety of landscapes across the United States.
The team includes Christina Grozinger, Heather Hines, Margarita López-Uribe, Doug Miller and Harland Patch from Penn State; Maggie Douglas from Dickinson College; Eric Lonsdorf and Dan Cariveau from the University of Minnesota; and Elina Lastro Niño, and Kimiora Ward, from University of California, Davis.
Funding is provided by the USDA and the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research.
Matching funds for the FFAR project were provided by Penn State; Dickinson College; University of California, Davis; University of Minnesota; the Almond Board of California; Hedgerow Farms; BroodMinder; and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation; with additional support from Pennsylvania and California beekeepers.
A'ndrea Elyse Messer