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A win for the bees is a win for everyone
The US Department of Agriculture has approved the first-ever vaccine for honeybees! Yes, you read that correctly. The vaccine protects against American foulbrood disease, a fatal bacterial disease that can destroy honeybee colonies — and thus threaten ecosystems that depend on the bees’ myriad ecological benefits. While it’s amusing to imagine a bunch of bee clinics with tiny little syringes and Band-Aids, there’s a much more practical way of administering this type of  vaccine. It’s mixed into “queen feed,” which the worker bees consume. The worker bees incorporate the vaccine into royal jelly, which they feed to the queen bee. Once the queen bee has consumed the vaccine-laden royal jelly, her offspring will all be immune as well. 

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Supporting Pollinator Habitats Through Operation Pollinator

By Caydee Savinelli, Ph.D.Editor’s Note: This Entomology Today post is a sponsored article contributed by Syngenta, a Gold Corporate Partner of the Entomological Society of America. The views presented in sponsored posts reflect those of partner organizations and not necessarily those of ESA. Learn more about Syngenta and the ESA Corporate Partner program.Biodiversity is essential for effective crop production and the health of our natural resources. It sustains the ecosystems that underpin fertile soils and plant pollination, helping farmers grow healthy food. Bees alone contribute nearly $20 billion to the value of crop production in the U.S. each year, and more than one-third of all crops depend on pollinators for propagation. Ensuring a sustainable food supply requires each of us to play a role in preserving our land and protecting pollinators and other beneficial insects and animals. Syngenta understands the importance of the interconnectedness of agriculture and nature and is committed to helping biodiversity flourish.Taking strides toward sustainable agriculture helps promote an industry that can successfully feed today’s consumers while also safeguarding pollinators and conserving the environment for generations to come. The Good Growth Plan highlights our ongoing commitments and initiatives to support farmers and the environment through 2025. And, through our Operation Pollinator program, Syngenta is focused on creating essential habitats to restore pollinators in agricultural settings, on golf courses, and within other landscapes.Operation Pollinator provides farmers, golf course managers, and other land managers with the tools and information needed to successfully establish and manage attractive wildflower resources that are crucial for bumble bees and pollinating insects while enhancing the visual appearance of the utilized land. The habitat provides nesting and food resources for bees, other pollinators, beneficial insects, as well as small mammals and farmland birds, enhancing overall biodiversity. It also provides important ecosystems services like pollination and pest control that improve crop yields, thereby securing both sustainable farming and environmental balance.The vast landscapes of golf courses, meanwhile, provide an ideal opportunity to preserve and enhance the essential habitat of pollinators and create pride for golf club members. With guidance from Syngenta, golf course superintendents can extend their environmental stewardship to make a positive impact on the environment. By establishing pollinator habitats in under-utilized land like out of play areas, run-off buffer zones, or roadway green spaces, positive benefits are achieved for multiple stakeholders including pollinators, golf course superintendents, and the environment itself.We can all do our part to protect pollinators and other beneficial insects by promoting more sustainable practices that diversify agricultural land, golf courses, and other landscapes. To learn more about pollinator protection and stewardship best practices, visit www.BeeHealth.org.

Caydee Savinelli, Ph.D., is stewardship team and pollinator lead at Syngenta in Greensboro, North Carolina. Email: caydee.savinelli@syngenta.com.

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Sunflowers Linked to Reduced Varroa Mite Infestations in Honey Bees

ENTOMOLOGY TODAY  1 COMMENT

A new study indicates a benefit to honey bees of local sunflower cropland. Even low levels of sunflower acreage nearby correlate with reduced Varroa mite infestation in managed colonies, researchers found, and supplemental sunflower pollen helps ward off the mites, as well. (Photo by Lillian Wong via FlickrCC BY-SA 2.0)

By Paige Embry

Paige Embry

Varroa destructor is aptly named. It is a parasitic mite of Asian honey bees (Apis cerana) that jumped to European honey bees (Apis mellifera) and then romped around most of the world, wreaking havoc.⁠ In 1987 it arrived in the United States,⁠ where it wins the dubious award of being the most problematic of the honey bee’s many pests and diseases.⁠

Scientists long thought that Varroa mites were tick-like—blood-suckers that transmitted diseases—and that the bulk of the harm they caused came from the diseases they spread. Even without spreading diseases, Varroa mites damage bees because they don’t actually eat replaceable hemolymph (a bee’s blood-equivalent); rather, they eat its fat body. It sounds benign because the name is misleading. A bee’s fat body is a bit like a human’s liver. It plays a role in the bee’s immune system and its ability to survive the winter and detox pesticides. Any method of lowering Varroa loads would be a huge boon to honey bees and their keepers.

new study published in December in the Journal of Economic Entomology provides early evidence that the humble sunflower (Helianthus annuus) may provide some relief from those fat body-destroying mites.

Evan Palmer-Young, Ph.D.

The pollen and nectar of sunflowers (and some other members of the Asteraceae family) are protein-poor and generally considered a subpar source of nutrition for bees. From an overall health perspective, however, sunflower pollen and nectar look like great food because they may help reduce parasites. Evan Palmer-Young, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Maryland, is lead author on the new study. Previous experiments on bumble bees had shown that sunflower pollen strongly reduced infections by a specific parasite, so, Palmer-Young says, “We wanted to see whether honey bees might derive similar, infection-reducing benefits from sunflowers.”

The study covers four different experiments that looked at two parasites and several viruses, but only two experiments showed significant results. The authors sum up their findings: “Although we did not find significant effects of sunflower pollen on endopasrasites [Nosema ceranae] or viruses in laboratory or field settings, sunflower pollen was associated with reduced levels of Varroa mites in honey bee colonies.”

In one experiment the scientists provided supplemental pollen (sunflower pollen, wildflower pollen, or artificial protein patties) to field colonies of honey bees in late summer when Varroa levels often begin to rise. The colonies given supplemental sunflower pollen saw a 2.75-fold diminishment in Varroa infestation levels relative to bees receiving artificial pollen patties. (The group receiving wildflower pollen had more mites than the ones fed sunflower pollen, but the difference was not statistically significant.)

Perhaps the most significant finding was from the experiment that looked at the association of Varroa mite infestation levels and sunflower crop acreage. The scientists found that honey bees located near sunflower cropland had lower mite levels—even when the total land cover by sunflowers was scant (a median of 0.32 percent). Their models predicted that each doubling of sunflower acreage within two miles of an apiary would lead to a 28 percent decrease in mite infestation. The researchers note that this pattern is a correlation, and some other factors related to having sunflowers in the vicinity—different management practices by beekeepers or pesticide exposure, for example—may be the cause for the lower mite loads. Nevertheless, Palmer-Young says a big takeaway from the work is, “that sunflowers appear to be protective against a major threat to honey bees (i.e., mites), whereas the amount of U.S. sunflower cropland is declining—potentially limiting bees’ access to sunflower-associated benefits.”

Total crop area devoted to sunflowers in the U.S. has decreased by 2 percent per year since 1980. The authors note that market and policy shifts that led to changes in agriculture in the Dakotas played a role in that decline. In the 1980s, low-quality farmland was converted to (flower-rich) grasslands as part of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)—a change likely beneficial to bees of all sorts. Post-2000, both sunflower crop area and CRP acreage were replaced by corn and soybeans. The authors note, “Between 2006 and 2016, 53 percent of CRP land surrounding existing North and South Dakota apiaries was converted to crop production, but only 8 percent was used for bee-friendly crops.” This area hosts 75 percent of U.S. sunflower acreage as well as 40 percent of U.S. honey bees during the summer.

The authors write that they don’t have enough evidence yet to recommend specific changes in land use, but Palmer-Young says, “If sunflowers are as big of a factor in mite infestation as indicated by our landscape-level correlations … having a few more acres of sunflower within a mile or two of apiaries could bring colonies below the infestation levels that require treatment of hives with acaracides (i.e., mite-controlling chemicals).”

Palmer-Young provided a poetic summary for the paper:

Fields of sunflower blooming in sight
yield for many a bee a delight.
But with bright yellow joy
Displaced by corn and soy,
Honey bees could lose balm for their mites.

In other words, if additional research supports sunflowers as an anti-parasitic for Varroa mites, don’t be surprised if beekeepers start tossing out sunflower seeds everywhere they go.

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Sunflower-Associated Reductions in Varroa Mite Infestation of Honey Bee Colonies

Journal of Economic Entomology

Paige Embry is a freelance science writer based in Seattle and author of Our Native Bees: North America’s Endangered Pollinators and the Fight to Save Them. Website: www.paigeembry.com.

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Megan Vetter, president of Nebraska Beekeepers Association holding a honey bee frame from a honey bee box

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Bees play an integral role in pollinating important crops in Nebraska.

Holly Wortmann | Jul 22, 2022

Farm Futures Summit and Boot Camp 2022

The honeybee is vital to Nebraska’s agricultural industry. No other insect is more managed or relocated for specific pollination, nor does any other insect pollinate such a wide range of plants.

Honeybees pollinate more than 90 cultivated crops with a combined value of $10 billion annually, according to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA). Nebraska crops that are dependent upon bees for pollination include alfalfa, vetch, sweet clover, sunflower and other seed crops.

Many fruit and vegetable crops also benefit from bee pollination, including watermelons, cucumbers, cantaloupe, pumpkins, apples, cherries and pears. Wildflowers that cover woodlands and meadows also depend on honeybee pollination. Plus, they provide honey and wax — products used in many households.

For Megan Vetter, the desire to add honeybees to the farm went beyond the honey that bees provide.

“In 2016, I was home with little kids helping my husband, Curran, on our Vetter family’s fifth-generation farm west of Aurora, Neb.,” she says. “I wanted to diversify, so I planted fruit trees, a vegetable garden, native sunflowers, and even turned a border area into native wildflowers. I researched the benefits of pollinators and found they’re the No. 1 resource for having good gardens.”

All in

Megan wanted to learn all that she could about beehive management before the bee packages arrived. She enrolled in a beginning beekeeping class, offered by Central Community College on the Grand Island campus. “That’s when my hobby started to snowball,” she jokes.

Along with her husband and children, Phoebe and Michael, the family now runs Vetter Bees. They sell local, fresh honey and lotion bars. “Our motto is ‘Happy Bees Make Vetter Honey.’ And the bees — they’re our wild pets,” Megan says.

In 2020, Megan went from beekeeping student to educator, now teaching in the same setting where she learned the basics of beekeeping. “I’m just finishing my second year teaching the beginning beekeeping class at Central Community College, so you could say that I’ve come full circle,” she says.

Today, Megan is president of the Nebraska Beekeepers Association, a nonprofit organization. The group’s aim is to educate beekeepers, large and small, throughout Nebraska. NBA works closely with Great Plains Master Beekeeping, as well as the University of Nebraska Bee Lab, as a resource for educational materials and field training activities.

“Nebraska Beekeepers has a booth at the Nebraska State Fair, selling Nebraska honey, wax products and honey ice cream. The state fair booth is our major fundraiser for the NBA’s youth scholarship,” Megan explains. “Each year, eight to 10 youth are accepted into the program, encouraging young beekeepers to start a new hive. The students build their own hive, participate in field activities and are paired with an experienced beekeeping mentor.”

This yearlong program helps youth have a better understanding of the value of honeybees to the environment and food chain. It has been successful in providing a base for future generations of beekeepers in Nebraska.

On the rise

Craig Romary, NDA environmental programs specialistmonitors BeeCheck for the state — an online mapping service designed for reporting field locations of commercial apiary sites for pesticide applicators. An apiary is a place where bees are kept, sometimes called a bee yard.

Nebraska beekeepers have registered 720 apiaries in BeeCheck. Romary says the actual number of beekeepers is expectantly higher. “Since registration of hives on BeeCheck is voluntary, those numbers likely do not account for all of the state’s beekeepers, including the hobbyists,” he says.

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reports 39,000 colonies and more than 1.8 million pounds of honey production in Nebraska last year based on self-reporting producers. The number of beehive colonies reported are on the rise from 2021, which is good news for the state’s most important pollinator.

If you want better yields for your crops, orchards and gardens, Megan recommends planting a variety of forages for the healthy bee. “Perennial fall flowers such as asters and native sunflowers give the bee storage right before winter,” she says. “And in the spring, maple trees offer early nectar and pollen sources. A bee will travel up to 7 miles for food, gathering pollen and nectar. Water sources are also good for healthy bees.

“One in every three bites of food is pollinated by bees,” she adds. “From almond orchards in California to the apple orchards in the Northwest and across the Dakotas, to alfalfa and blueberries in the Upper Midwest, there’s a nationwide circular movement of bees. The best-looking food in the store’s produce department — apples, strawberries, pumpkins — they’re all pollinated by bees and hundreds of smaller pollinators. The impact is great on all persons. We must protect and conserve our pollinators and educate each other about the survival of the bee for all humanity.”

Bees close to home

If you are interested in keeping bees on your property, there are things to consider.

Basic beekeeping is having new, viable queens, feed (natural or artificial), sound equipment and disease-free hives (good medication program or integrated pest management).

“Sometimes that first year can be a tough one,” Megan says, “but I recommend taking a class a year before starting. Beekeeping is a multiyear project and does take time, especially in the fall. Budget for the cost of beekeeping upfront, which could run up to $250-$300 for one hive. Most importantly, join a beekeeping community. It’s a good family to be part of.”

For more information on beekeeping and how to get started, visit nebraskabeekeepers.org.

Wortmann writes from Crofton, Neb.

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TAGS: CROPS MANAGEMENT

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The finding challenges a century of research identifying bees as the only key clover pollinators

yellow underwing moth on a red clover flower at night
Many moths are nocturnal pollinators of plants. But the insects, like this Mythimna farrago, weren’t known to be regular visitors of red clover flowers until now. JEFF KERBY

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By Jake Buehler

JULY 26, 2022 AT 2:23 PM

Bees aren’t the only insects pollinating red clover. Moths do about a third of the flower visits after dark, new research suggests.

The findings, detailed in the July Biology Letters, come as a surprise, since almost all the credit for pollination of red clover has gone to bees. The discovery highlights what researchers may be missing during the night shift of plant pollination, including a previously unknown benefit the moth pollination bestows on the clover — a boost in seed production. 

This work may help deepen scientists’ understanding of the pollination services provided by nocturnal moths, says Daichi Funamoto, a pollination biologist at the University of Tokyo who was not involved with the new study.

For about a century, the general understanding of clover pollination has been that bees — and bees alone — are the key insect players. Clover is a “valuable agricultural plant and has received a lot of study,” says Jamie Alison, a pollinator ecologist at Aarhus University in Denmark. “Yet none of those studies have said anything about the possibility of moth pollination.”

Alison and his colleagues discovered moths’ pollination role while studying how plants and their insect pollinators respond to climate change by potentially moving uphill. To track pollinator visitation to grassland plants, the team set up 15 time-lapse cameras in the Swiss Alps. 

From June to August 2021, the cameras monitored 36 flowers of red clover (Trifolium pratense), an important crop used as forage for livestock. Such cameras are very useful for monitoring sites that are difficult to reach daily, Alison says. 

Nine of the cameras took images in a slice of the afternoon and again at night, while six of them continuously captured photos every five minutes. The technology provides substantial practical benefits.

“You can’t feasibly have someone stand there for 24 hours and record consistently what is visiting a flower,” Alison says. “Fortunately, you can do that with cameras.”

The method also allowed Alison and his colleagues to investigate nighttime visitors. In all, the team collected more than 164,000 photos of red clover flowers, with 44 of these images capturing visits by insect pollinators. Most of these nectar-seekers — some 61 percent — were bumblebees (Bombus). But a substantial proportion — 34 percent — were moths, mostly large yellow underwings (Noctua pronuba), visiting in the early morning hours. Butterflies and either a wasp or another bee species rounded out the other 5 percent of visits.

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Moths are well-known as habitual pollinators of many other plants, but their role in clover pollination seems to have been overlooked, Alison says (SN: 6/27/17). He and his colleagues also investigated how many seeds the clover blossoms produced, finding that nighttime visits from moths added to seed yield.

It’s clear “the role of nocturnal moths as pollinators of crops has largely been neglected,” Funamoto says. “I think future studies will reveal many plant species that are thought to be dependent on pollination by diurnal insects are indeed pollinated by nocturnal moths, to some extent.”

Alison and his team are now looking to replicate their observations at different latitudes in Europe to confirm that N. pronuba moths pollinate red clover in other places. The researchers also would like to equip cameras with artificial intelligence–driven programs that are trained to identify and swiftly categorize the type of pollinator making a visit.

“The future isn’t just cameras,” Alison says, “but cameras should be a big part of it.”

Questions or comments on this article? E-mail us at feedback@sciencenews.org

Editor’s Note:

This story’s image caption was updated July 27, 2022, to remove the implication that the insect shown was a large yellow underwing moth.

CITATIONS

J. Alison et alMoths complement bumblebee pollination of red clover: a case for day-and-night insect surveillance.  Biology Letters. Vol. 18, July 2022, 20220187. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2022.0187.

About Jake Buehler

Jake Buehler is a freelance science writer, covering natural history, wildlife conservation and Earth’s splendid biodiversity, from salamanders to sequoias. He has a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

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Laboratory study might provide new explanation for colony collapses

Honey bee life spans are half what they were in the 1970s

Honey bee landing on a watermelon flower
STEPHEN AUSMUS

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The longevity of honey bees has fallen by 50% over the past 5 decades, New Scientist reports. When a hive doesn’t have enough worker bees, it’s less likely to survive over the winter. For this reason, commercial beekeepers now typically lose 30% to 40% of their colonies each year—significantly more than in previous decades. Shorter life span could be a reason, according to a study published this week in Scientific Reports. For the study, researchers took bee pupae from a colony, reared them in an incubator, and then kept the adult bees in custom cages. The bees lived an average of 18 days; that’s versus 34 days, according to publications from the 1970s. Shorter lives mean less time collecting pollen and nectar, and thus smaller reserves of honey to help the bees survive to the next spring. The researchers speculate that breeders may have accidentally shortened the potential life span while they were improving disease resistance, because shorter lived bees might be less likely to spread disease, New Scientist reports.

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Small-Scale Beekeepers Earn More With Best Management Practices

ENTOMOLOGY TODAY  1 COMMENT

A first-of-its-kind study examining the financial outcomes of small-scale beekeepers shows that following a set of best management practices can result in higher earnings—largely due to improved colony health via more active Varroa mite management. (Photo by mbeo via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

By Andrew Porterfield

While most of the honey produced by the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) industry comes from large, commercial beekeepers, small-scale beekeepers make up more than 90 percent of the number of keepers in the United States.

Small-scale beekeepers (those managing 50 colonies or less) are usually more interested in managing bees as a hobby, but they remain an important part of the $15 billion honey bee management industry in the U.S. They also suffer more economic consequences of hive losses than do commercial keepers. During the winter of 2021-2022, for example, small-scale keepers lost 58.5 percent of their hives, versus a 36.6 percent loss for commercial beekeepers. (Some losses over winter are expected for all honey bees.)

While the economics of commercial beekeepers are fairly well known, not much is known about the financial situation of small-scale keepers. While many hobbyist keepers may not be highly concerned about profits and losses from their activities, many other such keepers do sell honey and aim for some financial gain. To determine whether certain management practices may benefit small-scale keepers, a team from the University of Maryland and Washington State University conducted a financial analysis of small-scale beekeepers. Their results—the first covering the economics of small-scale beekeeping—were published in November in the Journal of Economic Entomology.

Bee colony losses can arise from a number of stresses, including parasites, pathogens, pesticides and inadequate nutrition. However, good management practices can reduce the impact of these stresses. The research team compared the revenue, cost, and profitability of small-scale beekeepers following two standards of practice:

  • Average management practices (AMP) include removing and storing equipment from dead colonies for the following spring, applying miticides to control Varroa mites every fall, starting new colonies by purchasing packages of bees, and not treating old brood honeycombs before using them in a new colony.
  • Best management practices (BMP) include reusing equipment immediately with a new colony or adding to an existing one, monitoring Varroa monthly and using miticide when needed, starting new colonies by splitting from successful colonies, and freezing honeycombs at −20 degrees Celsius for 24 hours before using them in a new colony.

The team looked at seven apiaries of 20 colonies, 10 under BMP and 10 under AMP for three years. They used economic tools of net present value and internal rates of return to determine what economic benefits BMP may provide.

They found that costs per colony under BMP were higher than AMP during the first two years, with an average cost of $219.55 per apiary for BMP versus $183.96 for AMP in the first year, for example. However, per-colony costs decreased more for BMP apiaries than for AMP (14.2 percent compared to 4.0 percent), largely because of reduced needs for BMP apiaries to replace dead colonies.

On the revenue side, the team found that under BMP, the amount of honey and number of colonies produced increased steadily. For BMP, average total revenue per colony increased 11 times over three years, versus 6.7 times in AMP colonies. By calculating net present value and internal rates of return, the researchers found that after three years, BMP apiaries were eight times more profitable than AMP apiaries. This was largely due to improved colony health brought about from better Varroa management.

There’s still room for improvement among BMP managed hives, the researchers write. Reducing labor costs from more experienced and streamlined management could boost profits, and simplifying Varroa monitoring and adjusting the timing of colony inspections and Varroa mite treatments could also boost the bottom line.

But further challenges remain even under BMP, and further, says Kelly Kulhanek, Ph.D., assistant professor in entomology at Washington State University and co-author on the study.

“Ultimately many of the factors making beekeeping difficult are outside the scope of what beekeepers can control,” Kulhanek says. “Even after three years of using BMPs, we still had colony losses around 30 percent. This is because, even with great management practices, honey bees are still subject to several interacting environmental stressors that contribute to their poor health.”

She adds, “Stressors like chronic low-level pesticide exposure and lack of floral resources in the landscape will always have some effect, no matter how well a beekeeper manages their hives. I think that ultimate bee health will only be achieved when we address these landscape level issues, which will require cooperation among many different stakeholder groups.”

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Best Management Practices Increase Profitability of Small-Scale US Beekeeping Operations

Journal of Economic Entomology

Andrew Porterfield is a writer, editor, and communications consultant for academic institutions, companies, and nonprofits in the life sciences. He is based in Camarillo, California. Follow him on Twitter at @AMPorterfield or visit his Facebook page.

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Honey Bees Show a Taste for Soybean in New Study

ENTOMOLOGY TODAY  1 COMMENT

Soybean’s reputation as a poor source of nectar for honey bees may be undeserved, as a study of honey bee pollen samples and waggle dances shows a clear attraction to nearby soybean fields. Shown here is a honey bee (Apis mellifera) probing a soybean flower for nectar. (Photo by Sreelakshmi Suresh)

By Ed Ricciuti

Ed Ricciuti

Among beekeepers, soybeans have been commonly viewed as a poor source of nectar for honey bees, but scientists at Ohio State University suggest this key crop does not deserve its bad rap.

That’s good news for honey bees (Apis mellifera) and for the people who raise them, because since the 1960s soybean production has increased by a factor of 13 worldwide, with almost 90 million acres cultivated in the United States alone.

“Future research efforts aimed at enhancing mutual interactions between soybeans and honey bees may represent an unexplored pathway for increasing soybean production while supporting honey bees and other pollinators in the surrounding landscape,” the researchers write in a study published in September in the Journal of Economic Entomology. “Beekeepers may be unknowingly harvesting a substantial amount of soybean honey.”

At first glance, say the researchers, soybean plants do not seem attractive to honey bees, which rarely are seen foraging among them. However, bees may actually be bustling undetected among the small, pink soybean flowers, hidden beneath a thick canopy of leaves. Moreover, the amount of nectar produced by different varieties of soybeans varies, so some are more productive than others.

To analyze the role that soybean blossoms play in honey production, researchers at Ohio State University analyzed pollen in honey samples from apiaries near Ohio soybean fields on a microscopic and molecular level and paired those results with observations of honey bees’ waggle dances. Shown here are magenta-stained soybean pollen grains found in honey samples. (Photos courtesy of Chia-Hua Lin, Ph.D.)

“In this study, we found that honey bees actively forage in soybeans in Ohio, and that soybean blossoms play an important role in honey production,” says Chia-Hua Lin, Ph.D., a research scientist at Ohio State’s Rothenbuhler Honey Bee Lab and lead author of the study.

A honey bee (Apis mellifera) approaches a soybean blossom. (Photo by John Ballas)

The Ohio State team reached its conclusion after a two-pronged approach to determine the value of soybean agriculture to honey bees. The team analyzed pollen in honey samples from apiaries near Ohio soybean fields on a microscopic and molecular level. The researchers paired these results with observations of honey bees’ waggle dances in two experimental colonies near soybean crops at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center near London, Ohio. The waggle behavior is an instinctively choreographed dance by which honey bees tell their hive mates the location of nectar sources. The length of a line along which a bee waggles indicates the distance from the hive. The angle from a line perpendicular to the ground, taken in flight away from the position of the sun, shows the direction.

Results showed soybean pollen in the honey that increased in proportion during the July-August blooming period. Overall, say the researchers, “Soybean pollen was detected … in 17 (55 percent) of the 31 samples analyzed.”

The strong preference of honey bees for soybeans was striking. Honey bees studied “preferred soybean fields over other foraging habitats between 0.5 and 1.5 kilometers from the hive,” according to the research. Outside of those parameters, whether bees foraged among soybeans or other sources of nectar was a toss-up, with the proportion of soybean nectar depending on its availability. At no distance did bees show a preference for non-soybean habitats over soybean fields.

Waggle dancers were videoed and analyzed with special software. In general, bees preferred soybean fields for foraging over other habitat types. The closer to the hive bees foraged, the more likely they were to home in on soybeans.

Chia-Hua Lin, Ph.D., in beekeeping suit holding frame from open honey bee hive box, as two other colleagues in beekeeping suits observe
researchers at a table in a conference hall with lab equipment, one peering into a microscope

All in all, the findings point to soybean crops as a significant resource for honey bees and perhaps other bee species. “Although our study only examined the use of soybeans by honey bees, an ample supply of soybean nectar could also support wild, unmanaged pollinators in the ecosystem,” say the scientists.

An individual soybean flower can produce up to 0.5 microliters of nectar, and a single plant can have up to 800 flowers. The recommended density for growing soybeans is about 250,000 to 300,000 plants per 2.5 acres.

In the long run, the value of soybean nectar to honey bee populations will have a payback for soybean growers. Greater pollination by bees will considerably increase soybean yield.

Says Lin, “There is no doubt that the extensive areas of flowering soybeans can supply a substantial nectar flow for bees in mid-summer. Our next big question is, how do we harness the pollination services provided by bees to increase soybean yield? We are currently working with soybean farmers and beekeepers to study management strategies that will benefit both stakeholders and improve sustainability in the corn-soybean agroecosystem.”

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Soybean is a Common Nectar Source for Honey Bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) in a Midwestern Agricultural Landscape

Journal of Economic Entomology

Ed Ricciuti is a journalist, author, and naturalist who has been writing for more than a half century. His latest book is called Bears in the Backyard: Big Animals, Sprawling Suburbs, and the New Urban Jungle (Countryman Press, June 2014). His assignments have taken him around the world. He specializes in nature, science, conservation issues, and law enforcement. A former curator at the New York Zoological Society, and now at the Wildlife Conservation Society, he may be the only man ever bitten by a coatimundi on Manhattan’s 57th Street.

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  3.  HTBt cotton and GM mustard set to get GEAC approval; first for any GM crop in 20 years

HTBt cotton and GM mustard set to get GEAC approval; first for any GM crop in 20 years

The commercial cultivation of GM crops may get approval in the country after 20 years. These crops are HTBt cotton and GM mustard. According to highly placed sources, the road to approval of commercial cultivation of these two crops has almost been cleared. The mere formality of approval from the GEAC remains. As per the information obtained by Rural Voice, the sub-committee appointed by GEAC has submitted its report to the latter. Positive recommendations have been made in this report for the commercial cultivation of HTBt cotton and GM mustard.

Harvir SinghHarvir Singh

Published:Oct 17, 2022 – 08:46Updated: Oct 22, 2022 – 12:53

HTBt cotton and GM mustard set to get GEAC approval; first for any GM crop in 20 years

Mustard fields in the Sambhal district of UP

The commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops may get approval in the country after 20 years. These crops are herbicide-tolerant (HT) Bt cotton, called HTBt cotton, and GM mustard. According to highly placed sources, the road to approval of commercial cultivation of these two crops has almost been cleared. The mere formality of approval from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) remains. As per the information obtained by Rural Voice, the sub-committee appointed by GEAC has submitted its report to the latter. Positive recommendations have been made in this report for the commercial cultivation of HTBt cotton and GM mustard.

Earlier, it was in 2002 that Bt cotton, a GM variety of cotton, was approved for commercial cultivation for the first time. Since then, no GM crop has been given approval for commercial cultivation. The Bt cotton varieties had been developed by the American company Monsanto and the Indian company Mahyco, in which the technology was Monsanto’s.

According to the said source, the GEAC-appointed sub-committee had been asked to study the adverse effects of the HTBt cotton variety and give its recommendations. Since it did not receive any such evidence with regard to HTBt cotton, it has given a positive report for approval to the variety. One of the members of the committee says that the cultivation of HTBt cotton has already been going on illegally in the country in about 30 per cent of the area. Seeds are being supplied for the same illegally. Given this, it would be better if it is given approval so that farmers may get seeds of the right quality and seed sellers may be held accountable in case of any defect.

Approval likely for GM mustard also

The other crop likely to get GEAC approval is GM mustard. Mustard plays a key role in the supply of edible oils in the country. But we have constantly failed on the front of increasing mustard productivity. Scientists argue for this that the solution lies in giving approval to the cultivation of GM mustard. Dr Deepak Pental, the ex-Vice Chancellor of the University of Delhi, had developed Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11, otherwise known as DMH-11, a genetically modified hybrid variety of mustard. Its commercial release is yet to get approval. It is in favour of approval to the commercial release of this variety that the sub-committee has given its recommendations.

Dr Pental created DMH-11 through transgenic technology, primarily involving the Bar, Barnase and Barstar gene system. The Barnase gene confers male sterility, while the Barstar gene restores DMH-11’s ability to produce fertile seeds. The process also involves the insertion of a third gene called Bar. A patent had been obtained for this GM event in the US in 1991. Dr Pental has “tweaked” the process and he, too, has obtained its patent from the US. The Varuna species of mustard has been used for this GM variety.

What is interesting is that DMH-11, the GM mustard variety based on Dr Pental’s Barnase-Barstar technology, had even been given approval in the 133rd GEAC meeting. Immediately later, however, the approval was stayed in its 134th meeting.

A senior agricultural scientist says that canola varieties based on the Barnase-Barstar system are being cultivated on a large scale in Canada. Hybrid canola varieties are being cultivated on 21mn acres in Canada. The ill-effects of GM mustard on bees have been said to be at the root of the fear of its adverse effects. The said apprehension was that a reduction in the number of bees due to this will lead to a loss in the natural pollination process, which in turn will have an adverse effect on agricultural production. In Canada, however, there has been a far greater increase in the number of bee colonies in spite of the increase in the area under canola cultivation. According to a report, while the area under canola cultivation has increased from 10mn acres in 1988 to 21mn acres in 2019, the number of bee colonies has gone up from a level of about 10mn to 25mn during the same period.

One of the members of the sub-committee told Rural Voice that better-quality hybrid varieties were necessary to increase mustard production. The hybrid varieties of several private companies are selling in the market. But a high level of productivity can be attained only with the approval of the GM variety. India is not able to come out of the cycle of import dependence in the case of edible oils. In such a situation, subsequent to the approval given to GM mustard, its better GM varieties can bring about a steep hike in oil production. This is what happened in the case of cotton. GM cotton put an end to import dependence and enabled India to become a large cotton exporter, too.

Prof. KC Bansal, Secretary of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) and former Director of the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), said to Rural Voice, “Barnase–Barstar is a proven GM technology for hybrid development in mustard. We must promote this technology and the resultant GM mustard hybrid for the benefit of farmers, consumers and the nation for reducing our dependence on oil imports. Further, the transgenic mustard parental lines developed using Barnase and Barstar genes will prove useful for transferring these genes into more diverse parental lines for developing more hybrids with higher yields.”

As far as the issue of GM crops is concerned, it has been a controversial one. A large section has always stood in its opposition. After the approval given to the commercial cultivation of GM Bt cotton in 2002, Bt brinjal was another GM crop to have been given GEAC approval in 2009. It had been developed by the private seed company Mahyco in collaboration with the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad; Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore; and ICAR-Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (IIVR), Varanasi. But the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC) imposed a 10-year moratorium on its commercial cultivation that continues to this day. The Agriculture Minister has conveyed to the Parliament that field trials of the Bt brinjal variety developed at the domestic level have been approved for the 2022-23 season. But the condition of obtaining a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the respective state government has been imposed for this.

The government had given approval in March to develop new varieties through the SDN-1 and -2 categories of genome-edited plants. Guidelines for this were issued in May and the SOP, too, was issued in this regard in September. These moves from the government send the signal that it is changing its stance on the subject of approval for GM crop varieties. If the commercial release of the HTBt cotton and GM mustard is shown the green flag, it will be for the first time in the country in 20 years that a GM crop gets approval for commercial cultivation.

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Farmers are overusing insecticide-coated seeds, with mounting harmful effects on nature

Published: February 22, 2022 8.41am EST

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  1. John F. TookerProfessor of Entomology and Extension Specialist, Penn State

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John F. Tooker receives funding from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Soybean Promotion Board.

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Planting season for corn and soybeans across the U.S. will begin as soon as March in Southern states and then move north. As farmers plant, they will deploy vast quantities of insecticides into the environment, without ever spraying a drop.

Almost every field corn seed planted this year in the United States will be coated with neonicotinoids, the most widely used class of insecticides in the world. So will seeds for about half of U.S. soybeans and nearly all cotton, along with other crops. By my estimate, based on acres planted in 2021, neonicotinoids will be deployed across at least 150 million acres of cropland – an area about the size of Texas.

Neonicotinoids, among the most effective insecticides ever developed, are able to kill insects at concentrations that often are just a few parts per billion. That’s equivalent to a pinch of salt in 10 tons of potato chips. Compared with older classes of insecticides, they appear to be relatively less toxic to vertebrates, especially mammals.

But over the past decade, scientists and conservation advocates have cited a growing body of evidence indicating that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees. Researchers also say these insecticides may affect wildlifeincluding birds that eat the coated seeds.

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In response to these concerns, Connecticut, Maryland, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine and New Jersey have enacted laws limiting use of neonicotinoid insecticides. Other states are considering similar measures. Consumer and environmental advocates are also suing to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate coated seeds more tightly.

As an applied insect ecologist and extension specialist who works with farmers on pest control, I believe U.S. farmers are using these insecticides far more heavily than necessary, with mounting harm to ecosystems. Moreover, our ongoing research indicates that using farming strategies that foster beneficial, predatory insects can greatly decrease reliance on insecticides.https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/juxtapose/latest/embed/index.html?uid=c74b20ca-8eb2-11ec-a554-13fc6baea232Use of imidacloprid, a common neonicotinoid, increased dramatically from 1994 to 2019 (move slider to compare years).

Insecticides on seeds

Most neonicotinoids in the U.S. are used as coatings on seeds for field crops like corn and soybeans. They protect against a relatively small suite of secondary insect pests – that is, not the main pests that typically damage crops. National companies or seed suppliers apply these coatings so that when farmers buy seeds they just have to plant them. As a result, surveys of farmers indicate that about 40% are unaware that insecticides are on their seeds.

The share of corn and soybean acreage planted with neonicotinoid-coated seeds has increased dramatically since 2004. From 2011 to 2014, the amount of neonicotinoids applied to corn doubled. Unfortunately, in 2015 the federal government stopped collecting data used to make these estimates.

Unlike most insecticides, neonicotinoids are water soluble. This means that when a seedling grows from a treated seed, its roots can absorb some of the insecticide that coated the seed. This can protect the seedling for a limited time from certain insects.

But only a small fraction of the insecticide applied to seeds actually enters seedlings. For example, corn seedlings take up only about 2%, and the insecticide persists in the plant for only two to three weeks. The critical question: Where does the rest go?

Treated and untreated seeds on a black background
Soybean seeds treated with neonicotinoids (dyed blue to alert users to the presence of pesticide) and treated corn seeds (dyed red) versus untreated seeds. Ian Grettenberger/PennState University, CC BY-ND

Pervading the environment

One answer is that leftover insecticide not taken up by plants can easily wash into nearby waterways. Neonicotinoids from seed coatings are now polluting streams and rivers across the U.S.

Studies show that neonicotinoids are poisoning and killing aquatic invertebrates that are vital food sources for fish, birds and other wildlife. Recent research has connected use of neonicotinoids with declines in the abundance and diversity of birds and the collapse of a commercial fishery in Japan.

Neonicotinoids also can strongly influence pest and predator populations in crop fields. In a 2015 study, colleagues and I found that use of coated soybean seeds reduced crop yields by poisoning insect predators that usually kill slugs, which cause serious damage in mid-Atlantic corn and soybeans fields. Subsequently, we found that neonicotinoids can decrease populations of insect predators in crop fields by 15% to 20%.

Recently we found that these insecticides can contaminate honeydew, a sugary fluid that aphids and other common sucking insects excrete when they feed on plant sap. Many beneficial insects, such as predators and parasitic wasps, feed on honeydew and may be poisoned or killed by neonicotinoids.

Slugs, shown here on a soybean plant, are unaffected by neonicotinoids but can transmit the insecticides to beetles that are important slug predators. Nick Sloff/Penn State UniversityCC BY-ND

Are neonicotinoids essential?

Neonicotinoid advocates point to reports – often funded by industry – that argue that these products provide value to field crop agriculture and farmers. However, these sources typically assume that insecticides of some type are needed on every acre of corn and soybeans. Therefore, their value calculations rest on comparing neonicotinoid seed coatings with the cost of other available insecticides.

Recent field studies, however, demonstrate that neonicotinoid-coated seeds provide limited insect control because target pest populations tend to be scarce and treating fields for them yields little benefit.

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Does this mean that the U.S. should follow the European Union’s lead and ban neonicotinoids or adopt strict limits like those enacted in New Jersey?

As I see it, neonicotinoids can provide good value in controlling critical pest species, particularly in vegetable and fruit production, and managing invasive species like the spotted lanternfly. However, I believe the time has come to rein in their use as seed coatings in field crops like corn and soybeans, where they are providing little benefit and where the scale of their use is causing the most critical environmental problems.

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Instead, I believe agricultural companies should promote, and farmers should use, integrated pest management, a strategy for sustainable insect control that is based on using insecticides only when they are economically justified. Recent research at Penn State and elsewhere reaffirms that integrated pest management can control pests in corn and other crops without reducing harvests.

Concerns about neonicotinoid-coated seeds are mounting as research reveals more routes of exposure to beneficial animals and effects on creatures they are not designed to kill. Agricultural companies have done little to address these issues and seem more committed than ever to selling coated seeds. Farmers often have very limited choice if they want to plant uncoated seeds.

Scientists are sounding the alarm about rising extinction rates worldwide, and research indicates that neonicotinoids are contributing to insect declines and creating more toxic agricultural lands. I believe it’s time to consider regulatory options to curb the ongoing abuse of neonicotinoid-coated seeds.

This is an update of an article originally published on June 26, 2018.

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Research Finds Protecting Pollinators is Critical For Food Security in Africa

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Nov 06, 2020

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Photo Credit: Aleksandra Georgieva

This post is written by Sunday Ekesi, Michael Lattorff, Thomas Dubois, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).

Background

Pollination is crucial for food production, human livelihoods, and the preservation of biodiversity in natural ecosystems. Global crop production is highly dependent on pollinators. Approximately 75% of all crop plants are dependent on animal-mediated pollination and a recent analysis estimated the annual market value of pollinator services at US$235-577 billion. Thus, pollinators and the pollination services they provide serve a crucial function in food security. In many developing countries, agricultural production has become increasingly dependent on pollination services, as the relative number of pollination-dependent crops has increased three times compared to developed countries over the past 50 years. Pollination of crop plants by insects also contributes directly to human nutrition by increasing the availability of critical micronutrients. Animal-pollinated crops contain the majority of the available dietary lipid, vitamin A, C, and E, which are critical for the physical and intellectual development of children, as well as of key importance to other vulnerable groups including pregnant women, populations in disease risk regions (e.g. malaria endemic regions), and immuno-compromised individuals (due to malnutrition or pre-existing conditions). Beyond supporting crop production and human health through a diversified diet, pollinators are also a source of several commercial products (e.g., honey, wax, bee venom, royal jelly and resins) important for cosmetics, medicine, and cultural identity. Yet, despite their importance, pollinators are under increasing pressure and populations are declining worldwide.

Pollination R4D to improve food security: Examples from the International Centre of Insect Physiology & Ecology (ICIPE)

Assessing pollinator diversity

Globally, declines in insect pollinator populations (due to diverse factors including unsustainable agricultural practices, habitat destruction, and climate change) are threatening crop production amidst the growing demand for food driven by human population growth. To conserve and augment the population of pollinators for horticultural crops, we first need a basic understanding of their diversity. In this regard, we have undertaken surveys on avocado along the altitudinal gradient of the Eastern Afromontane region of Taita Hills, Kenya. Diverse pollinators belonging to 28 species in 14 families were observed visiting avocado. Overall, the proportion of honeybee (Apis mellifera) visits were the highest. In Murang’a, Kenya, a richer assembly of flower visitors was observed — including 73 species in 29 families. The most abundant families were ApidaeCalliphoridaeRhiniidae, and Syrphidae. Honeybees comprised 95.8% of Apidae. Other bee species included Braunsapis sp.Ceratina (Simioceratina) sp. (both Apidae), and Nomia sp., Lasioglossum sp., Pseudapis sp. (both Halictidae). On macadamia, stingless bee species from the genus Hypotrigona and Liotrigona have also been identified as efficient pollinators to enhance pollination and increase the productivity of the crop.

Understanding pollinator deficits and exploring opportunities to utilize pollinators to increase crop yields

Intensification of agriculture is leading to losses of wild pollinator species and hence of pollination services required to increase crop yields. As a result of the threats facing honeybees and other pollinators, ICIPE has been developing tools to utilize alternative managed pollinators (e.g., honeybees, stingless bees, and carpenter bees). In one of the major avocado growing areas of Kenya (Murang’a county), we analyzed the pollination deficit in avocado. This is the decrease in crop yield due to lack of sufficient pollination services. We found a 27% loss of fruits due to suboptimal pollination. However, supplementation of smallholder avocado farms with two honeybee colonies was sufficient to reverse this pollination deficit, increasing avocado yield by 180% and income by US$168 per farmer per season.

The domestication of stingless bees as alternative pollinators is a major component of activity at ICIPE. Through this activity, it has been possible to domesticate 14 species from East, West, and Central Africa; among which 6 have been widely evaluated and promoted with respect to their pollination efficiency. We are currently implementing activities for the use of stingless bee-targeted pollination on specific crops in open fields. In Kakamega, Kenya, research activities implemented jointly with smallholder farmers on pollination showed that stingless bee species, such as Hypotrigona gribodoi, are more efficient in improving green pepper fruit and seed quality in open fields compared to other wild pollinators. We also determined that the stingless bee species Meliponula bocandei and M. ferruginea are more efficient than honeybees in the pollination of sweet melon and cucumber. Recently, we also demonstrated that flower odor learning in stingless bees is species-specific, and that specific vibrational sounds are used to recruit foragers to crop plants. In an ongoing Mastercard Foundation-funded projects (Young Entrepreneurs in Silk and Honey [YESH] and More Young Entrepreneurs in Silk and Honey [MoYESH]) aimed at expanding commercial beekeeping, entrepreneurial and decent employment opportunities for >100,000 youth in Ethiopia, pollination of horticultural crops, especially vegetables using honeybees and stingless bees, along developed watersheds and rehabilitating landscapes, is being promoted as a complementary income generating opportunity while also providing diverse bee forages. Already, a cohort of 16,926 partner youth (59% female) have been recruited at project action sites and organized into 1,263 business enterprises designed to enhance agribusiness and income generation opportunities for rural youth and women in the country. Model beekeeping sites will be used to demonstrate managed beekeeping as an integral component of sustainable ecological farming that promotes healthy food, healthy farming, and a healthy environment.

Bee health R4D in support of pollination services

ICIPE has established the African Reference Laboratory for Bee Health (ARLBH) at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, with four satellite stations in Liberia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and Ethiopia, as well as a diagnostic laboratory in Madagascar. This is the first of its kind in Africa. The ARLBH was accredited as a Collaborating Centre for Bee Health in Africa by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Activities in the facility include assessment of environmental stressors like pesticides and habitat deterioration responsible for bee declines, development and establishment of diagnostic tools for pesticide residue analysis, surveillance for bee diseases, and establishing measures to protect them.

Improving habitat protection and restoration

Large-scale land transformation puts insect pollinators at risk, as land use change often results in degraded or fragmented habitats, that can no longer support pollinators due to the lack of nesting or foraging habitats. We have demonstrated that habitat deterioration, which includes natural forest loss, reforestation and afforestation with exotic tree species, negatively impacts species richness and diversity of stingless bees in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, most stingless bee species are susceptible to habitat degradation since they tend to have very specific nesting requirements and only few species accept a broad range of natural and artificial substrates.

Strengthening pest and disease surveillance and management

Selected pollinator pests have been identified as being a particular concern to pollinator populations, including the wax moth (Galleria mellonella) and large and small hive beetles (Oplostomus haroldi and Aethina tumida) respectively. An initial survey provided high quality data that have been used, in combination with modeling approaches, to predict regions of high pest risk. The chemical and behavioral ecology of these pests has also been studied in detail, with the aim of developing control measures based on using chemical agents as attractants or repellents in traps. In Kenya, small hive beetles have also been identified as a major pest affecting stingless bee Meliponula species. Additionally, we have established that the Black Queen Cell virus that attacks honeybees can also be transmitted to stingless bees. Finally, we have also determined the resistance and tolerance mechanisms of African honeybees to the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor, potentially the most severe bee-pest. A plant-based bio-pesticide has been developed that is effective against the Varroa mite and has a repellent effect on the small hive beetle.

Decreasing the risk of pesticide use in crops and foraging plants, and adopting pollinator-friendly agricultural practices

While pesticide residue levels currently remain below international standard norms (e.g. EU standards), ICIPE and partners have observed an increase in pesticide residues in beehive products, which implies that pollinators are picking up pesticides applied to crops that could in turn affect their health. Pesticide use is increasing in sub-Saharan Africa, and ICIPE has piloted the use of ‘integrated pest and pollinator management (IPPM)’ to ensure that crop protection is harmonized with pollination services on pollinator-dependent crops such as avocado and cucurbits. In Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, and Murang’a, Kenya, we are implementing best-bet integrated pest management (IPM) package based on  fungal bio-pesticides, attract-and-kill products, and protein baits that enhance pollinator diversity while reducing pest populations (such as the oriental fruit fly — Bactrocera dorsalis — and the false codling moth — Thaumatotibia leucotreta) on avocado across landscapes. So far, more than 1,400 farmers in Murang’a have been trained on the use of IPPM, and many have adopted the practice to combat avocado pests without negatively impacting pollinators.

Understanding the bee microbiome to improve pollination services

Honeybees and stingless bees harbor diverse gut microbiota, which are critical to a variety of physiological processes — including digestion, detoxification, immune responses, and protection against pests and diseases. Surprisingly, whereas beekeeping has been widely promoted as a tool to mitigate poverty in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, no comprehensive studies of honeybee gut microbiota have been done in sub Saharan Africa where pollen and nectar resources are present year-round. Moreover, Africa hosts a highly significant diversity of bee species that might be associated with significant and uncharacterized gut microbe diversity selected for by different evolutionary pressures. ICIPE’s goal is to increase pollinator fitness and thus the pollination services they provide by investigating gut microbiota-host interactions. With the use of comparative genomics and microbiology tools, we are characterizing the nature of specific beneficial interactions. Results indicate that microbial abundance varies with geographical locations. We are currently investigating the parameters affecting this abundance as well as uncovering novel members of the microbiome that we found to be specific to Africa, in an effort to enhance pollinator health and pollination services.

Modeling climate change impact on pollinators

Climate shocks and land use change increasingly affect the life cycle as well as spatial and temporal distribution patterns of pollinators (e.g., honeybee, stingless bees), their pests, and the flowering plants upon which they depend for food and shelter. These habitat changes and climatic shifts have a trickle-down effect on pollination efficiency and thus food security. We are using replicable analytical methods and novel procedures for assessing the impact of climate and landscape change on the current and future distribution and abundance of honeybees, stingless bees, their pests, and flowering plants. Using long-term climate data with time-series satellite data variables overlaid on actual land surface properties and dynamics (i.e. changes in vegetation chlorophyll activity over time), we have developed accurate and realistic pest risk maps to guide interventions with regard to managing the pests of these pollinators using bio-pesticides without harming bees. Within the landscape mapping context, we have developed a sophisticated algorithm to map floral responses from spectral imagery. This is helping to understand the role of landscape fragmentation and the distribution, abundance, and temporal availability of flowering plants, pollinators, and pollination services. The knowledge on the value of natural habitats for bees within agro-ecological landscapes (using flowering and fragmentation maps) should be an incentive for the protection of these habitats.

Strengthening the capacity of farmers and national systems

Capacity building of farmers and national agricultural extension systems has been integral to building awareness of the important role pollinators play in improving food security. Training activities range from minimizing pesticide use, adopting pollinator-friendly agricultural practices, incentive to communities to support conservation of pollinators, and training of graduate students (PhD and MSc). Over 17,793 farmers and 816 extensionists have been trained across 21 Francophone and 23 Anglophone speaking countries across Africa. A total of 32 graduate students (PhD and MSc) have been trained across different countries (Kenya, Burkina Faso, Belgium, Uganda, Cameroon, Ethiopia, D.R. Congo, South Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Madagascar).

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