Archive for the ‘pollinators’ Category

  • News Release 27-May-2021

Fungus fights mites that harm honey bees

New fungus strain could provide a chemical-free method to help honey bees

Washington State University

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IMAGE: Varroa destructor mites in a petri dish before being exposed to the new strain of metarhizium fungi. view more Credit: Washington State University

PULLMAN, Wash. — A new fungus strain could provide a chemical-free method for eradicating mites that kill honey bees, according to a study published this month in Scientific Reports.

A team led by Washington State University entomologists bred a strain of Metarhizium, a common fungus found in soils around the world, to work as a control agent against varroa mites. Unlike other strains of Metarhizium, the one created by the WSU research team can survive in the warm environments common in honey bee hives, which typically have a temperature of around 35 Celsius (or 95 F).

“We’ve known that metarhizium could kill mites, but it was expensive and didn’t last long because the fungi died in the hive heat,” said Steve Sheppard, professor in WSU’s Department of Entomology and corresponding author on the paper. “Our team used directed evolution to develop a strain that survives at the higher temperatures. Plus, Jennifer took fungal spores from dead mites, selecting for virulence against varroa.”

Jennifer Han, a post-doctoral researcher at WSU, led the breeding program along with WSU assistant research professors Nicholas Naeger and Brandon Hopkins. Paul Stamets, co-owner and founder of Olympia-based business Fungi Perfecti, also contributed to the paper. Stamets is a fungi expert, well-known for using several species in applications ranging from medicine to biocontrol.

Varroa destructor mites, small parasites that live on honey bees and suck their “blood,” play a large role in Colony Collapse Disorder, which causes beekeepers to lose 30-50% of their hives each year. The mites feed on bees, weakening their immune systems and making them more susceptible to viruses.

The main tools beekeepers use to fight varroa are chemicals, such as miticides, but the tiny pests are starting to develop resistance to those treatments, Naeger said.

Metarhizium is like a mold, not a mushroom. When spores land on a varroa mite, they germinate, drill into the mite, and proliferate, killing it from the inside out. Bees have high immunity against the spores, making it a safe option for beekeepers.

Stamets, who did some of the initial testing with Metarhizium that showed the fungus couldn’t survive hive temperatures, was impressed by the work done by the WSU researchers.

“Science progresses through trial and error, and my technique wasn’t economical because of the hive heat,” he said. “But Jennifer did enormous amounts of culture work to break through that thermal barrier with this new strain. It’s difficult to really appreciate the Herculean effort it took to get this.”

Han and Naeger screened more than 27,000 mites for levels of infection to get the new strain.

“It was two solid years of work, plus some preliminary effort,” Han said. “We did real-world testing to make sure it would work in the field, not just in a lab.”

This is the second major finding to come from WSU’s research partnership with Stamets involving bees and fungi. The first involved using mycelium extract that reduced virus levels in honey bees.

“It’s providing a real one-two punch, using two different fungi to help bees fight varroa,” Stamets said. “The extracts help bee immune systems reduce virus counts while the Metarhizium is a potentially great mite biocontrol agent.”

The next step is to seek approval from the Environmental Protection Agency to use Metarhizium on hives used in agriculture. The team must also finalize delivery methods for beekeepers to apply the fungus in hives.

“We hope in 10 years that, rather than chemical miticides, Metarhizium is widely used to control Varroa mites,” Sheppard said. “And that the mite problem for beekeepers has been significantly reduced.”

The team thinks the methods they developed to evolve Metarhizium for varroa control could be used to improve biocontrol agents in other crop systems as well.


The majority of the funding for this work came from private donations from individuals and foundations. Additional funding came from Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) Specialty Crop Block Grant K2531 and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch 1007314.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.Share Print E-Mail

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Jennifer Han



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Fungus fights mites that harm honey bees

Washington State UniversityJournalScientific ReportsFunderWashington State Department of Agriculture, United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture

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Sustainable IPM efforts target insect pheromone use

TAGS: CROPSTodd Fitchettewfp-todd-fitchette-desert-broccoli-71.jpg

A biologically safe attractant using pheromones to entice honeybee visits to broccoli for seed is one of several new ag tech ideas promoting sustainable agriculture practices.A company is using a transgenic plant to create low-cost pheromones that could revolutionize pest control.

Todd Fitchette | Apr 21, 2021

Attracting bees to broccoli is just one of many ways a California ag tech company has its mind set on sustainable agriculture with global implications.

Scientists at the Riverside-based ISCA are using a transgenic plant to create low-cost pheromones that could revolutionize pest control and integrated pest management (IPM) efforts in agriculture and beyond.https://7456b58e549c0abcddebe4cfdc5b0937.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

The example of bees and broccoli was demonstrated earlier this year near Yuma, Ariz. By placing a safe pheromone attractant on broccoli grown for seed production, colonies of managed honeybees were attracted to the plants, even during high wind events common during the winter months in the desert region of southwest Arizona.

The use of an attractant to entice honeybees to visit plants needing pollination is just one of several projects, according to ICSA Chief Executive Officer Agenor Mafra-Neto. Moreover, the bee attractant, which looks like a dollop of toothpaste applied to the top of the broccoli plants, could have implications other crops needing pollination by honeybee colonies. Studies in almonds suggest a 5-15% boost in fruit set. Those studies are ongoing.

Mating disruption – the art of fooling male insects into thinking female insects are in an area they are not by means of filling the air with the sex pheromone scent they emit – is yet another sustainable way to improve IPM efforts in agricultural systems. In this case ISCA scientists are using genetically modified strains of camelina plants to create the insect sex pheromones.

These efforts have shown themselves successful in protecting vineyards in Argentina against the European grapevine moth.

USDA funding

According to a company statement, the camelina plant efforts received U.S. Department of Agriculture funding to develop pheromones from natural resources over the use of standard chemical synthesis techniques. A $650,000 grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) came after a $100,000 NIFA grant that kickstarted the project.

“Pheromone and other semiochemical controls are the future of crop protection, and ISCA’s breakthrough biological pheromone synthesis will propel agriculture into a more lucrative and sustainable enterprise,” Mafra-Neto said in a prepared statement.

Pheromone use is growing in popularity, particularly for mating disruption efforts that are proving themselves successful in agricultural systems. Almond growers are using pheromone attractants in mating disruption efforts against the Navel orangeworm. Unlike with pesticides, insects do not develop resistance against pheromone products.

Mafra-Neto points to the use of the camelina plant, a cousin of broccoli and canola, as a lower-cost method to create pheromones. Biosynthesis in plants eliminates the need to use petroleum-based chemicals as feedstock and bypasses most of the complex organic chemistry steps now required in pheromone production, he said.


Moreover, ISCA studies are also looking at attract-and-kill products that entice targeted insects to a specific location that includes an insecticide capable of killing that insect. Rather than broadcast a chemical insecticide across large swaths of land or to rows of trees, the attract-and-kill method draws insects to a specific location through pheromones. The inclusion of pesticide materials capable of killing the pest when it feeds on or touches the formulation, allows this method to be targeted and safer for the environment.

The attract-and-kill method can greatly reduce the number of chemical pesticides applied on crops for insect control. It also protects non-targeted pests, including pollinators and beneficial insects, because the pheromones used to attract target pests are specific to those species.

Current attract-and-kill studies are ongoing in cotton, corn, and soybeans.

Another topic of study includes the idea of repellants, or semiochemicals that can cause insects to avoid specific plants. As studies in California avocados are ongoing on this front, Mafra-Neto believes forestry systems can use such technology to repel the bark beetle, which is responsible for widespread forest damage and explosive forest fires because of all the dead trees.

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Walmart introduces restoring pollinator habitat program

Imagine mornings without orange juice or summer picnics without strawberries. Such a future is possible if we don’t take collective action to begin restoring pollinator habitats worldwide.

It’s estimated one of every three bites of food we eat is possible because of animal pollinators. Yet studies show vital pollinator populations have been declining over the last 30 years due to loss of habitat, pests, pollution, pesticides and a changing climate.

To help improve pollinator health and biodiversity in the regions in which we operate, Walmart U.S. is announcing new pollinator commitments that will further our efforts to help reverse nature loss and ultimately bring us closer to meeting new nature commitments made by Walmart and the Walmart Foundation.

These commitments aim to reduce several pollinator threats through promoting integrated pest management (IPM) practices and improving and expanding pollinator habitats.

One contributor to pollinator decline is the use of pesticides. Pollinator exposure to pesticides can be reduced by minimizing the use of pesticides, incorporating alternative forms of pest control and adopting a range of specific application practices through an Integrated Pest Management system. Therefore, Walmart U.S. is committing to source 100 percent of the fresh produce and floral we sell from suppliers that adopt IPM practices, as verified by a third-party, by 2025.

We also encourage fresh produce suppliers to phase out chlorpyrifos and nitroguanidine neonicotinoids pesticides (where applicable unless mandated otherwise by law), avoid replacing them with other products with a level I bee precaution rating and assess and report annual progress.

Pollinators are fundamental for around 80 percent of all flowering plants and more than three-quarters of the food crops that feed us. Walmart U.S. will encourage fresh produce suppliers to protect, restore or establish pollinator habitats by 2025 on at least 3 percent of land they own, operate and/or invest in and report annual progress. We will also continue to avoid selling invasive plant species in our retail stores (based on recognized regional lists). And we will work with local organizations to protect, restore or establish pollinator habitats in major pollinator migration corridors.

We have also partnered with solar developers to establish pollinator habitats around solar panel arrays. We will continue looking for opportunities to establish more pollinator habitats where feasible.

Finally, the Walmart Foundation recently granted funding to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability to leverage citizen science data to monitor pollinators more cost-effectively, unlocking opportunities to improve conservation planning, farm practices and landscape management in the United States.

To help educate our customers about pollinator plants, Walmart U.S. encourages suppliers to label pollinator-friendly plants as attractive to pollinators in retail locations. Plants that attract pollinators will feature special tags to help customers grow pollinator gardens. In total, more than 1.3 million annual and perennial pollinator-promoting plants will carry tags in Walmart stores this spring.

For more information:
Gabby Ach

Publication date: Thu 15 Apr 2021

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Diverse pollinators improve canola production

Study shows the proximity of canola fields to semi-natural areas can increase yield
American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), Soil Science Society of America (SSSA)

14-Apr-2021 9:00 AM EDT, by American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), Soil Science Society of America (SSSA)favorite_border

Newswise: Diverse pollinators improve canola production

Mariana Paola Mazzei

Nets are used to collect pollinating insects on canola flowers. Only the insects that are feeding on the flower are captured for later identification in the laboratory. PreviousNext

Newswise — April 14, 2021 – Farmers pay attention to many aspects of their crops. They carefully track how much water they are giving them and the amount of fertilizer they are using. But what about how many bees and butterflies are visiting? 

Mariana Paola Mazzei, a researcher specializing in crop pollination, and her collaborators think it’s time to start caring more about pollinators. They stress that it’s important to have what are called semi-natural areas around crop fields. This helps more pollinators visit the crops. 

The team’s research was recently shared in Crop Science, a journal of the Crop Science Society of America.

Their recent research tested if canola plants in Argentina have a better yield if they are close to semi-natural areas. These areas have more pollinators. They looked at how pollinators affected different aspects of canola production. This included the total number of fruits, seeds per pod, and seed mass. 

“Pollinating insects visit flowers to feed on nectar, pollen, or both,” Mariana P. Mazzei explains. “This flower-pollinator interaction allows pollen flow between flowers, carried on insects.”  

Pollinators can help increase yield by putting a higher number of pollen grains on a flower. This means there will be more seeds produced per pod. Also, if more flowers per plant are fertilized, there will be more total seeds in a field. 

Their results showed that the closeness of the crop to semi-natural habits can indeed increase the yield of canola. The closer the canola was to the pollinators, the more yield increased. 

The team also looked at what pollinators were present in the canola fields. The types of pollinators, quantity of pollinators, and diversity of pollinators visiting crop fields are all important factors. 

Honey bees were the most common and important pollinator. Researchers also found native species, such as types of hoverflies, flies, butterflies, wasps, and carpenter bees. Some of the species were found pollinating canola for the first time. 

“The number of pollinating species is important because a higher diversity means more chance of fertilization and seed production in this crop,” Mariana P.  Mazzei says. “Seeing new species of pollinating insects in this crop allows us to make better recommendations to help semi-natural habitats. It also helps design future ideas to help the pollinators.”

The research team offers many strategies for increasing the number of pollinators. The most important is to diversify the landscape to make it more welcoming to pollinators. This can start with diversifying the crops themselves.

“A diversity of crops that bloom at different times will attract more pollinators throughout the year.” Mariana P. Mazzei explains. “Having a lot of the landscape be the same crop reduces the stability of pollinating species and how many there are.”

“These plots of diverse crops should be merged with semi-natural habitats,” she adds. Having semi-natural areas throughout the landscape helps pollinators move between them.

“These sites provide shelter, nesting sites, and different food items for the pollinators along the season,” says Mariana P.  Mazzei. “The main policy recommendation to help crop pollination is having a minimum level of semi-natural habitats around crop plots.”

A last strategy is to create a crop management plan that is good for pollinators. This means, for example, reducing chemical use or using them at night or evening. This is when pollinators are less likely to be affected by them. 

“People usually think of insects as bad for crop plants,” Mariana P. Mazzei says. “They may not understand why pollinating insects are good. We showed that even in landscapes of central Argentina with a lot of agriculture and a low natural biodiversity, pollination is an important input for canola production.”

Mariana Paola Mazzei is a researcher at the National University of Rosario. This research was funded by Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), the National University of Cordoba, the Fund for Scientific and Technological Research (FONCyT), and Syngenta. 



Crop Science (Journal) https://doi.org/10.1002/csc2.20450

TAGS:Agriculture, Production Agriculture, Canola, Crop Science, Conservation, Environment, Pollinators, Habitat, Natural Resources


Paola Mazzei collection net 20150818_151033: Nets are used to collect pollinating insects on canola flowers. Only the insects that are feeding on the flower are captured for later identification in the laboratory. Credit: Mariana Paola Mazzei 


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Bees can remember human faces — and 7 other surprising facts about these important insects

Mar 12, 2021 / Meghan Miner Murray

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Most people know bees for two things: their sweetness (in the form of honey) or their stings. But they’re so much more than that. Honeybees, for example, live in highly structured social groups where each bee has a role to play. Some bees are solitary and can chew holes in wood. Others can be blue or white or green. In fact, there are more than 20,000 species of bees worldwide.

Importantly for humans, bees are crucial to our planetary health and survival — as pollinators, they are responsible for about a third of the food we eat. Yet bee populations worldwide are declining, largely due to climate change. Carbon emissions are resulting in temperature extremes that are causing habitat loss, a rise in parasitic mites and predators that thrive in warmer temperatures, and increased pesticide use to deal with these new pests. All of these factors impact bees in both big ways (colony collapse disorder) and small (shifting winds make bees less efficient). 

Here are 8 surprising facts you didn’t know about these amazing insects, and how you can help protect them.

Bees put the honey in honeymoon 

There may be more than 20,000 bee species, but only members of the genus Apis (11 known species) make honey. We may owe bees — and ancient Norse drinking habits — for the term “honeymoon.” The syrupy sweetener was an ingredient in the earliest known alcoholic beverages, including mead, a fermented honey drink. Mead played an important role in Nordic marriage rites as early as the 5th century. It’s believed that it was a tradition for newlywed couples to consume copious amounts of mead during the first full moon cycle, or month, of marriage. The practice is one of several proposed origins of the honeymoon’s etymology. 

Some bee species defend their hives with giant balls of heat

Like all insects, bees are cold-blooded, which means their body temperature is typically similar to their surrounding environment. But within the hive, where the developing brood lives, bees maintain a steady temperature of around 92-93 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Using their wings, bees can fan hot air out of the hive to cool an area or vibrate their flight muscles to heat it. 

As a changing climate brings new predators their way, some bee species have taken their thermoregulation abilities to the next level. Scientists have observed Japanese honeybees pounce on the hive-invading, bee-eating Asian giant hornets (also known as murder hornets) that cross their threshold. Together they create a giant ball around the hornet and use the same hive-heating techniques to cook the invader alive

Bees help farmers grow better food and keep food prices down 

Bees are highly efficient pollinators and are essential to plant diversity. When bees are employed to pollinate crops such as avocados, blueberries and cucumbers, fruit yields and weight increase dramatically compared to crops grown in the absence of bees or other pollinators. But climate change could threaten our food systems. 

As weather patterns continue to shift, many animal species will move to more ideal climate conditions when their previous habitats become less favorable. But experts fear that bees aren’t adapting to shifting temperatures like some other species, which could lead to rapid population decline. In some areas, flowers are also starting to bloom earlier with warming temperatures, and it’s unclear how bees will adapt to these seasonal changes. This could spell big trouble for both wild and farmed crops. “With the declining numbers of bees, the cost of over 130 fruit and vegetable plants that we rely on for food is going up in price,” says Noah Wilson-Rich, biologist and CEO of Best Bees, in his TEDxBoston Talk. 

There are bees that can age backwards — really 

Some honeybees have the remarkable ability to age in reverse. When there’s a lack of young worker bees, older bees can revert to their more energetic, younger selves to take on the task. In fact, these bees end up living longer to pick up the slack. This incredible phenomenon is currently under investigation by researchers to better understand the underlying mechanisms and potential applications for age-related dementia in humans. 

Scientists use bees to study serial killers 

Criminologists developed a statistical technique called geographic profiling (GP) in order to study repeat-offense crimes, like serial killings and burglaries. Based on the locations of the crimes, police can make educated guesses about where a suspect might live or visit regularly. That’s because in general, repeat offenders avoid committing crimes close to where they live so they can avoid detection — but they remain close enough to home for convenience. It turns out bees’ feeding patterns are similar. 

Bees avoid detection by predators and parasites by creating a distraction zone — they leave flowers closest to their nest entrance untouched and feed further away from the hive. In 2008, a team of researchers observed bees visiting different flowers, and attempted to locate their hive based on existing GP techniques. They found that bees’ foraging patterns were as reliable and predictable as humans. Criminology experts can now use insights from bee patterns to refine geographic profiling methods.

Honeybees live according to a strict hierarchy 

There are three types of honeybees: queens, workers and drones. There’s only one queen, and she’s typically the largest and longest-living individual within a hive. Worker bees are all female and the only bees with stingers. When a bee stings, it dies, leaving behind a banana-like scent that warns the other worker bees of danger. And while workers are genetically identical to the queen, only the crown can lay eggs. In fact, queen bees can release over 1,000 eggs each day for years. These eggs are fertilized with sperm from dozens of male drones whose only function is to fertilize the queen during a once-in-a-lifetime mating flight (the drones die after mating.) 

Bees can remember human faces 

Bees may have brains the size of poppy seeds, but they’re able to pick out individual features on human faces and recognize them during repeat interactions. In one study, scientists paired images of human faces with sugar-laced water and found that bees recognized and remembered faces associated with the sweet reward — even when the reward was absent. This keen perception not only helps these highly social creatures recognize each other, but it also helps them recognize and return to flowers that produce more pollen.

It’s not too late to save bees — and YOU can help 

Fortunately, you can take action to help bees where you live. With just a smartphone and a willingness to learn, you can contribute to various citizen science projects. A citizen science effort in Michigan, for example, helped researchers discover that special ground-dwelling bees that pollinate squash and pumpkin fare better on farms where the soil is not trampled or tilled — this finding has real implications for our food systems. Other ongoing programs help researchers collect baseline data on wild bee populations, including North America-based BeeBlitzes, the University of Illinois’ BeeSpotter, Australia’s Wild Pollinator Count and Canada’s Bumble Bee Watch.   

Your own backyard is another place to start. Plant more wildflowers, don’t use pesticides that harm bees and apply them before flowering begins. If you live in the city, set up or join a community rooftop garden. Interestingly, bees can have higher survival rates and produce more honey in the city compared to the crop-dotted countryside, Wilson-Rich says. And, if you want to really get in on the buzz, consider keeping your own honeybee hive — you’ll bolster your local bee population and reap some sweet rewards.

Watch Noah Wilson-Rich’s TEDxBoston Talk: 

About the author

Meghan Miner Murray is a freelance science and travel writer based in Kona, Hawaii. She once was rescued from a sinking ship in the North Atlantic. Read more about her and her work at meghanminermurray.com.

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From PestNet

FEBRUARY 17, 2021

Neonicotinoid pesticide residues found in Irish honey

by Thomas Deane, Trinity College Dublin

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Researchers from Trinity and Dublin City University found that Irish honey contained residues of neonicotinoid insecticides.

Neonicotinoids are the most widely used group of insecticides globally, used in plant protection products to control harmful insects.

Neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides. Unlike contact pesticides, which remain on the surface of the treated parts of plants (e.g. leaves), systemic pesticides are taken up by the plant and transported throughout its leaves, flowers, roots and stems, as well as incorporated into pollen and nectar.

In the European Union, their use is now restricted due to concerns about risks to bees and other non-target organisms. At the time of sampling for this study, their use was still approved in Ireland for certain agricultural crops.

Key findings

  • Of 30 honey samples tested, 70% contained at least one neonicotinoid compound
  • Almost half (48%) the samples contained at least two neonicotinoids
  • Exposure to pesticides does not just occur in agricultural settings
  • This research for the first time has identified the presence of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiacloprid in Irish honey from a range of hive sites across a range of land use types
  • The proportion and concentration of neonicotinoids in honeys from both agricultural and urban habitats, compared with semi-natural or other land covers, suggests that exposure of bees to neonicotinoids can potentially occur in a variety of environments

Residue levels were below the admissible limits for human consumption according to current EU regulations, and thus pose no risk to human health.

However, the average concentration of one compound (imidacloprid) was higher than concentrations that have been shown in other studies to induce negative effects on honey and bumble bees.

Dr. Saorla Kavanagh, lead author on the study, currently working at the National Biodiversity Data Centre, said: “Given that these compounds have been shown to have adverse effects on honey bees, wild bees, and other organisms, their detection in honey is of concern, and potential contamination routes should be explored further.”

Professor Jane Stout, from Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, said: “These results suggest that bees and other beneficial insects are at risk of exposure to contaminants in their food across a range of managed habitats—not just in agricultural settings. And even though we found residues at low concentrations, prolonged exposure to sublethal levels of toxins can cause effects that are still not fully understood by scientists or regulators. Therefore, we shouldn’t relax restrictions on their use.”

Dr. Blánaid White, DCU, said: “Our findings are consistent with others from outside Ireland, and neonicotinoids unfortunately seem to be ubiquitous in honeys worldwide. It’s reassuring that residues do not exceed safe levels, but it is an important warning that neonicotinoids should not be reintroduced into Irish environments, as they could potentially cause health or environmental concerns.”

Explore furtherOn balance, some neonicotinoid pesticides could benefit bees: study

Provided by Trinity College Dublin

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The Role of Niche Complementarity in Pollinator Agricultural Management and Crop Production

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Agrilinks Team

Nov 30, 2020

photograph of pollinator
Photo Credit: Ersin Aslan

This post is written by Katie James, PhD Research Student, Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, U.K.

The role of pollinator diversity in crop production

Pollinators play an integral role in crop production within agricultural landscapes due to the part they play in ensuring crop plant sexual reproduction by the transfer of pollen between crops. Studies have shown that greater diversity in pollinator networks results in crops that have higher yields, as well as fewer malformations (Blitzer et al., 2012) which can make the crop undesirable for commercial use due to a lower marketable quality. But the mechanisms within species diversity which facilitate greater yield and fewer malformations are not fully understood. The few studies that have explored the interrelationships between pollinator guilds on crop production and nutritional composition have shown that open-pollinated crops have a higher fat and vitamin E content (Brittain et al., 2014), and are of a better economic quality due to higher weight, fewer malformations and higher graded quality fruits compared to single species or hand-pollinated crops (Abrol et al., 2019). Additionally, it has been shown that wild bees provide not only an economic benefit from higher quality yields but also better shelf life and lower sugar-acid ratios, allowing for better storability of fruit crops (Klatt et al., 2014).

The role of complementarity between pollinators

Previous research has shown that plant visitation from multiple pollinator species produces fruits at a greater economic rate, with higher marketability (Albano et al., 2009). This is attributed mainly to the varying morphologies, behavioral traits and visitation rates of differing pollinator species. The overlap between these traits and behaviors (also known as niche complementarity) is thought to be why a greater diversity of pollinators provides a higher quality, yield and marketable quality. Niche complementarity between pollinator communities can be exhibited across multiple scales including spatial, temporal, seasonally and diurnally (Brittain et al., 2014; Garibaldi et al., 2016Rader et al., 2013). The concept of niche complementarity, as well as promoting pollinator diversity, acts as a buffer to reduce the loss of pollination services due to species decline (Blüthgen et al., 2011Inouye et al., 2015Mallinger et al., 2014).

This overlap between species behavior and visitation is especially valuable in monoculture crops which produce flowers repeatedly over a season (such as strawberry). In high diversity pollinator communities, there will be more variation among pollinator species in their seasonality, thus ensuring more flowers are pollinated, which produces higher yields throughout the growing season whilst enhancing the mutualistic relationship between species, rather than competition for available resources (Grab et al., 2017). Additionally, the size of pollinators and how hairy they are also plays a key role in the effectiveness of a pollinator. Larger bee species, such as Xylocopa sp., which can collect large pollen loads and encounter a larger surface area of the flower, lead to a higher rate of pollination in single-flower visit (Mensah et al., 2011). Pollinators have been shown to visit different levels of floral canopy, possess different approaches to each flower and visit at varying times of the day. In apple orchards, bumblebees prefer the top canopy and tend to approach the flower from above, whereas hoverflies and wild bees prefer the lower canopy; thus, the combination of pollinator guilds provides a level of complementarity on smaller scales, as well as across a region. Species also vary in foraging behavior during the day, with foraging most frequent in the early morning and later afternoon in bees, and secondary pollinators in the morning and midday (Miñarro et al., 2018). Consequently, when considering the future of pollinator management, investigation is required to establish community-level management schemes to account for the role and importance of complementarity and how the interactions between species can be utilized to promote higher yields, quality, and if there is a direct relationship with micronutrient composition.

Future development and project aim

Most global crops that are rich in micronutrients are also pollinator dependent. Micronutrient deficiencies are expected to become more severe in the next 20-30 years due to several interrelated factors, including climate change and a growing human population that is expected to place increasing stress on food supply and production (Bongaarts, 2019). These pressures are likely to be most prominent in areas where micronutrient deficiency is already an issue and especially in developing countries (Eilers et al., 2011). Currently, micronutrient deficiencies are three times more probable in regions of high pollinator dependency for vitamin A and iron (Chaplin-Kramer et al., 2014). If pollinator populations and biodiversity continue to decline, this will induce negative impacts on nutrient availability, and ultimately human health. Therefore, there is a demand for research to find sustainable and non-intensive ways to promote micronutrient-rich food production by way of pollinator promotion, protection and integration within environmental management strategies. Over the next few years, this project aims to examine the relationships between different pollinators and establish the mechanisms which facilitate yield, quality, and micronutrient content of fruit and vegetable crops. It is hoped that this will inform the development and integration of sustainable agricultural management strategies and improve crop production in terms of micronutrient availability and economic enhancement.

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Buzzing activity around pollinator health

By Anu Veijalainen, CABI. Reblogged from CABI Hand-picked blog.

Yesterday I cherished the start of spring in England by attending an event devoted to pollinators and pollination at the University of Reading. Most presentations at this meeting organised by the Royal Entomological Society were understandably about bees, but we also heard a few talks highlighting the importance of other pollinator groups.

For about five years now the media has been broadcasting alarming news about declining bee populations especially in Europe and North America. While the amounting evidence points to neonicotinoid insecticides being a major cause for the decline, I learnt yesterday that the situation is actually rather complex, other stressors are also involved, and scientists are still eagerly trying to form a complete understanding of the issue.

European Honey Bee Touching Down
Photo by Autan, under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

Multiple stressors threaten bee populations

The mysterious decline of bee populations has granted these insects a lot of press exposure in recent years – and rightly so; after all, pollinators provide a crucial ecosystem service. However, in the midst of following this growing information load, I realised that it was hard to keep up with the prevailing scientific consensus on the matter, especially on neonicotinoids. Therefore, I was glad to see that a review article summarising the current scientific evidence concerning the effects of neonicotinoid insecticides on insect pollinators intended to assist political decision-making was published at the end of last year. Another interesting review focusing on neonicotinoids and the prevalence of parasites and disease in bees came out earlier this month. Both reviews list a substantial number of recent studies indicating a connection between bee deaths and neonicotinoids.

New scientific case studies on bee health continue being published on a regular basis, and political and public discussion around bees and other pollinators remains active. This is demonstrated by searching for new records added to the CAB Abstracts database in the first four months of this year: using the searchstring ‘pollinator AND population AND decline‘ returns 25 results. Furthermore, last month the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) launched a new website dedicated to bee health called #Efsa4Bees – Parasites, pathogens and pesticides: making sense of multiple stressors.

In conclusion, keeping up-to-date with the advancements in the field is challenging because there is a large amount of new information being produced and the studies have found somewhat conflicting results, i.e., indicating that bees are in decline due to a number of factors including pesticides, habitat loss and diseases. All these topics were also covered in the presentations given yesterday at the meeting ‘Progress in pollination and pollinator research’.

Potential for a brighter future 

Being concerned about the current state of bee and other pollinator populations, I felt a sense of relief entering the lecture hall yesterday and noticing that so many people – over 80 mainly UK-based scientists attending this one-day event – have dedicated their careers to understanding and conserving pollinators. A number of the studies presented at the event had investigated how diverse bee communities can be supported in different landscapes, reflecting the fact that pollinators are also threatened by agricultural intensification and other human-induced land use changes. My day, however, culminated towards the end of the last session when excellent talks were given on the effects of insecticides on bees.

In her expert presentation, Dr Linda Field of Rothamsted Research first explained why neonicotinoids had become such efficient and commonly used insecticides in agriculture. She then moved on to state that in her opinion, blaming neonicotinoids for bee population declines was fairly “easy” (compared to, e.g., diseases and adverse weather events) yet hard to prove, and closed the talk by expressing what she thought was needed of pest management in the future. She highlighted the encouraging progress made in two areas of research: first, understanding how insecticides interact with target proteins and the variation of these proteins in different insects, and second, how insecticides are detoxified by insects and the variation of these mechanisms in different insects.

According to Dr Field, future pest management strategies should apply, for example, biological and cultural control, pest-resistant crop plants, and pesticides that specifically affect target pests but are not harmful for beneficial organisms.

Further activities for the concerned and the curious

If you’re interested in finding out more about the role of neonicotinoids in bee deaths, the AgriSciences group of the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) is organising a topical one-day event titled ‘Are neonicotinoids killing bees?’ in London this September. Registration is now open.

Finally, I’d like to share a list of links to relevant news articles and scientific papers I’ve encountered in the last a couple of months. They represent only a handful of the articles out there, but demonstrate the somewhat conflicting messages of studies and the active work scientists are conducting on pollinator health.


Godfray HCJ, Blacquière T, Field LM, Hails RS, Potts SG, Raine NE, Vanbergen AJ & McLean AR (2015) A restatement of recent advances in the natural science evidence base concerning neonicotinoid insecticides and insect pollinators. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 282: 20151821.

Sánchez-Bayoa F & Desneux N (2016) Neonicotinoids and the prevalence of parasites and disease in bees. Bee World 92: 34–40.

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Pesticides found in honey around the world


Insecticides are cropping up in honey samples from around the world, a new study finds, suggesting that bees and other pollinators are being widely exposed to these dangerous chemicals. The commonly used insecticides, known as neonicotinoids, are absorbed by plants and spread throughout their tissues. When pollinators collect and consume contaminated pollen and nectar, they can suffer from learning and memory problems that hamstring their ability to gather food and sometimes threaten the health of the whole hive. That’s a pressing concern because of the important role of honey bees and wild bees in pollinating crops, particularly fruits and vegetables. To get an idea of the extent of the threat to pollinators from pesticides, researchers in Switzerland asked their friends, relatives, and colleagues around the world to provide locally sourced honey. They found neonicotinoids most frequently in samples from North America, where 86% had one or more neonicotinoid, and least often in South America, where they occurred in 57% of samples. Globally, just over a third of samples had levels that have been shown to hurt bees, the researchers report today in Science. None of the samples had concentrations dangerous to human health. More than two types of neonicotinoids turned up in 45% of the honey samples, and 10% had four or five; the effects of mixtures are not known, but suspected to be worse. The team calls on governments to make more data available on the amounts of neonicotinoids being used in agriculture, which would help clarify the relationship between the amounts used by farmers and how much turns up in honey.

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Efforts benefit environment and economy

We have heard a lot in recent years about the plight of honey bees and how agriculture has done its part to contribute to declining populations of the bee family (Anthophila).

We have learned it is not just agricultural practices that have led to the serious decline in these beneficial pollinators; a host of other factors—things like disease and the decline in native plants that normally help the species survive and thrive in a healthy environment—have contributed as well .

Regardless of the cause of the overall decline, farmers, biologists and conservationists alike recognize the necessity of keeping honey bees healthy. Otherwise, the balance of our delicate eco-system is at risk. Since honey bees alone play such a critical role in pollination of various plants and crops, their decline across the globe poses a growing risk to global food production.

Agriculture must face the role it plays in the survival of honey bees, but the latest research indicates their health and ultimate survival as a species goes beyond a one-direction solution. Biologists are discovering that to address the needs of pollinators, every aspect of their health and survival must be examined.

Thanks to the work of an Arizona ethnobiologist and agroecologist, we are learning that not only honey bees, but all types of pollinators may be facing a similar crisis, and the far-ranging solution will require a broad spectrum of conservation support.


Gary Nabhan, a University of Arizona conservation biologist and the author of dozens of books on food, farming and biology, works with pollinators, including native bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and even nectar-feeding bats along the Arizona-Mexico international border. His efforts represent ground-breaking research that not only promises to benefit at-risk bees, birds and other pollinator animals, but also offers insight into how pollinator conservation can positively affect the region’s economically-challenged human population.

It’s an out-of-the-box cross-cooperation concept that brings together farmers, landowners, conservationists, area residents, government officials and local high school students who have met in the middle of an arid desert region to find common solutions to a multitude of social, environmental and biological problems that mirror life in broader areas of the world, beyond state and international borders.

Nabhan is in a unique position and location to tackle such a complex project. With resources afforded by the university and complimented by The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society, Southern Arizona plays host to one of the most diverse populations of pollinators on the continent. Hundreds of pollinator species have made their home in the northwestern corner of the Madrean Archipelago, a region full of mountains and floodplains, a location noted for the highest diversity of native bees, birds and mammals anywhere in the lower 48 states.

The area is also home to nearly 50,000 residents, many of whom are economically challenged to make a living in an area that can be harsh and unforgiving. As a result, gainful employment is tough to come by and lifestyles are often simple and limited as a result.

Nabhan, recognizing that these many factors provide a rare opportunity for his research, created Borderlands Restoration, a recognized low-profit, limited liability company designed to tackle not only the problems of pollinators, but also the socio-economic concerns of the local human population.


His plan was multi-faceted. The company laid plans to assess and improve the natural pollinator habitat of the region by identifying the decline of native plant species that pollinators rely upon for survival, many of which had all but disappeared for various reasons, including the rise of commercial agriculture on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

By rebuilding these missing elements in the local ecology, pollinators once again began to show signs of improvement. From volunteers to paid high school interns, existing and new nurseries were soon being established to promote the growth of native plants that pollinators prefer. These plants were then re-established on private and public land all across the region, especially in those areas where dense populations of pollinators were found, specifically along waterways and in the flood plains of low-lying areas.

Through his company, Nabhan also started working on erosion control and rainwater collection areas which increased soil moisture and stabilization, another component in helping to restore the ecology and natural habitat of pollinators in the region.

Ronald Pulliam, former science adviser for the U.S. Department of Interior and a Borderlands founder, says the efforts have created a restoration economy for the people of the area and at the same time is helping to rebuild pollinator populations.

The far-reaching advantages are many, including a supply of native perennials that can be planted surrounding the large number of new acres of alfalfa and cotton grown on both sides of the border.  Such practices can help offset the loss of native plants and resolve, or at least slow, the loss of pollinators subject to chemical exposure resulting from these agricultural operations.

From an economic standpoint, the project has already proven to be a major contributor to local families. The second-largest employer in remote Patagonia, Arizona, the company also utilizes seasonal workers and a robust number of volunteers who have taken an interest in conservation and the benefits it is providing local families. Supported by university educators, many local students have made commitments to continue their education through university and college programs, especially in fields related to conservation, ecology and biology.

The highlights and details of the work of Borderlands Restoration and innovator Gary Nabhan are currently highlighted in the November issue of the Scientific American, in a well-crafted article by writer Alexis Marie Adams. Traveling with Nabhan as he prosecuted his work across the region, Adams chronicled how the cooperation and dedication of a handful of men and women are helping to change the future of pollinators of the region, while giving hope for a better life to the people who are working to find solutions to major ecological challenges in Southern Arizona.

Read the article here.

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