Archive for the ‘pollinators’ Category

Entomology Today

P.M. Pollinators: Study Shines Light on Nocturnal Insects’ Role in Apple Production


A study on apple pollination, published in July 2021 in the Journal of Economic Entomology, highlights the valuable role that moths and other nocturnal insects play in pollinating crops and other plants. “What happens at night—where we’ve been somewhat ignoring it, somewhat dismissing it—there’s actually something going on. It’s potentially highly valuable input to fruit production,” says the University of Arkansas’ Stephen Robertson, Ph.D., lead author on the study. Shown here is an armyworm moth (Mythimna unipuncta) on an apple flower. (Photo by Stephen Robertson, Ph.D.)

By Paige Embry

Paige Embry

Insects are indispensable members of the world. They serve as breakfast, lunch, and midnight snack for a host of other animals. They chow down on everything from poop to wood, freeing up the nutrients for re-use. Some even prey on other insects, helping prevent pests from running amok. And, of course, insects also help pollinate 80 percent or more of the world’s flowering plants, including around three-quarters of agricultural crops that we humans value.

This last insect job has received a lot of attention and research dollars, but most of the focus has been on daytime pollinators. Pollinators that fly at night—and, yes, there are a lot of them—have gotten much less scrutiny. A study published in July in the Journal of Economic Entomology took a look at nighttime pollinators, in particular at their impact of both on apple tree pollination in Arkansas as compared with their daytime counterparts. The results were illuminating—both for how much pollination happened at night and who was responsible.

Stephen Robertson, Ph.D.

The study took place over two years, and the researchers used four treatments: closed (flowers bagged day and night), open (no bag), diurnal (bagged at night, to allow only daytime pollinator visits), and nocturnal (bagged during the day, to allow only nighttime visits). Stephen Robertson, Ph.D., just completed his doctorate at the University of Arkansas and is the lead author of the paper. Every day during bloom (except during thunderstorms) he went out to the orchard at sunrise and sunset to take bags off some branches and put them on others. After bloom was over, Robertson and his colleagues counted fruit set, prodding each baby fruit with a finger to see if it was truly set or would fall off. They removed the set fruits and counted the seeds. “Seed set,” the authors write, “is a direct proxy of the level of pollination.”

Last, they looked to see if at least one flower per cluster had set fruit. Growers would rather have one pollinated flower each in five different clusters instead of five flowers in one cluster because, the authors write, “Growers typically reduce the number of developing fruit to one per cluster to ensure tree resources are devoted to fewer apples, thus generating higher quality and more valuable fruit.”

Changes in research design between the two years (e.g., different trees used, changes in methods) means each year needs to be looked at separately. In 2017 the clusters that were bagged both day and night (closed) showed nearly 30 percent pollination which can be put down to the potential self-fertility of some of the trees or problems with the mesh bags used that year. Nocturnal pollination rates in 2017 were 57.5 percent, while both diurnal and un-bagged clusters showed pollination rates in the mid-eighties. In 2018, 3.4 percent of closed clusters were pollinated, while the nocturnal, diurnal, and open treatments came out nearly the same (11.3 percent, 12.8 percent, and 10.8 percent, respectively). The vastly different pollination rates between years could be because different trees were used, natural variation in pollinators, or a late freeze in 2018 that killed most of the nearby blooms that acted as pollinizers for the trees being tested.

Atalantycha bilineata on apple flower
armyworm moth (Mythimna unipuncta) on apple flower
Eupithecia sp. moth on apple flower
Chrysopid lacewing on apple flower
Culex sp. mosquito on apple flower
Galgula partita moth on apple flower
Udea rubigalis moth on apple flower
Eupithecia sp. moth on apple flower

However, in both years, similar seed sets show that nocturnally pollinated fruit had similar pollination levels to those pollinated during the day. Although the results were quite varied between the years, they nevertheless show that nocturnal pollinators have the power to contribute to pollination services in apple production—and potentially other crops as well. Robertson says part of why he conducted this study was because he’d learned that moths were visiting both blackberries and a peach tree in the area. Robertson says, “What happens at night—where we’ve been somewhat ignoring it, somewhat dismissing it—there’s actually something going on. It’s potentially highly valuable input to fruit production.”

This study also shows that one grower’s bane may be another’s gift. The dominant night-time visitors were moths in the family Noctuidae, and the two most common have larvae that are considered pests: armyworm (Mythimna unipuncta) and variegated cutworm (Peridroma saucia). In a time where insect declines are increasingly well documented, it may be useful to realize that “pest” insects are not all bad.

Robertson says, “Insects don’t fall into these categorizations [good, bad] so neatly. … There’s more to the story.” In other words: Pest, pollinator, food source, balance keepers—insects—even the same insect—perform a variety of jobs.

“Let’s not dismiss [an insect] based on previous classifications and just hang our hats on this is a bad guy,” Robertson says. “There’s duality associated with this. There’s mutuality associated with all these things.”

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Nocturnal Pollinators Significantly Contribute to Apple Production

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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For media inquiries contact: Kim Kaplan, 301-504-1637

ARS News Service ARS News Service Honey bee on an aster flower.

In the fall, in Iowa, honey bees gather pollen from asters and other flowers that were found to have higher levels of some nutrients that may better support bee colonies through a cold winter. Pollens to Fit A Honey Bee’s Every Season For media inquiries contact: Kim Kaplan, 301-504-1637 Whether the pollen honey bees collect comes from spring or fall flowers can be a vital factor in supporting the annual cycle of behaviors that sustain a honey bee colony, according to a study by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service scientists. Biologists know that many animals such as deer or elk have different nutritional requirements throughout the year depending on the season. These differences in nutrient needs are supported by the plants in the areas where the animals live. In the spring, nutrient-packed resources such as plant shoots meet the elevated nutritional demands of rearing young. In the fall, lipid-rich seeds and fruit supply high-calorie reserves that provide fat stores for the during winter. “We thought there might be a similar relationship between honey bee nutritional needs and nutrients in seasonal pollens. In the spring and summer, honey bee colonies concentrate on raising new bees. In the fall, they shift to preparing for a winter that is often spent in the hive surviving the cold. These activities may have different nutritional needs,” explained ARS entomologist Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman, who led the study. She is the research leader of the ARS Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Arizona. “Determining the nutritional needs of honey bees at different times of the year and how they are met with pollens from different seasonal flowers is a key to maintaining the health of honey bee colonies. With more specific information about nutrients in seasonal pollens, seed mixtures for pollinator plantings could be customized by location and season and seasonal pollen substitute diets could be developed,” DeGrandi-Hoffman said. To determine if nutrients in spring and fall pollens differ and if their nutrients align to support seasonal activities, the scientists compared spring and fall pollen collected by bees in central Iowa and southern Arizona. Though the types of flowers from which bees foraged in the spring differed between Iowa and Arizona, the spring pollens were similar in many nutrients, especially in the essential amino acids and many fatty acids needed to rear new bees. One interesting difference between spring pollens from Iowa and Arizona was that spring Iowa pollen had higher levels of the essential fatty acid, omega-3. The study found higher levels of omega-3 were associated with honey bees having larger hypopharyngeal glands (HPG). HPG produce a jelly that is fed to the queen (royal jelly) and young developing bees (larvae); larger HPG make more jelly, which allows more worker bees to be raised. “This suggests clover species, which largely made up the spring Iowa pollen, could be an important nutrient source for colony growth since it provides high levels of omega-3, and therefore clover should be included in pollinator plantings,” DeGrandi-Hoffman said. Fall flowers species not only differed between Iowa and Arizona, so did the nutrients they provided to the bees. Fall pollen from Iowa had higher levels of certain amino acids and lipids (fats). “Higher concentrations of these amino acids and lipids in fall Iowa pollen may better support honey bee colonies confined during the winter” said DeGrandi-Hoffman. “Honey bees are not confined for long periods during southern Arizona winters and may not require the same level of fat stores.” Spring Iowa pollen mostly came from clover species along with honeywort and plains mustards, while fall Iowa pollen primarily came from flowers in the aster family with small amounts from allium, partridge pea, ragweed and goldenrod species. Spring Arizona pollen was exclusively from mustard species, while fall Arizona pollen was mostly wooly bursage (Ambrosia), sandasters and cinchweeds. The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $17 of economic impact.
Interested in reading more about ARS research? Visit our news archive U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
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USDA ARS News Service
Honey bee on a mountain mint flower

Gallic acid, a chemical in the pollen of this mountain mint flower, can enhance the honey bee’s gut health.Four Nutrients in Flower Pollens Improve Honey Bee Gut Health

For media inquiries contact: Kim Kaplan, 301-504-1637June 23, 2021
For the first time, four nutritional compounds found in different flowers have been directly proven to enhance gut health of honey bees, boosting their immune system and increasing lifespan, based on a study by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service scientists.“We found that feeding caffeine, kaempferol, p-coumaric acid or gallic acid—all nutritional compounds found in the nectar and pollen of various flowers—improved the abundance and diversity of bacteria in the honey bees’ gut,” explained entomologist Arathi Seshadri. She is with the ARS Invasive Species and Pollinator Health Research Unit in Davis, California.Seshadri chose these four nutrients to test because they are naturally present in flowers favored by honey bees, and they had already been shown to improve honey bee lifespan and tolerance to a common pathogen, Nosema ceranae. Caffeine, for instance, also has been shown by researchers to make bees better learners and improve their memory of rewarding floral scent and nectar quality. This study is the next step in more specifically defining how some nutrients in flower pollen can help bees by showing a connection through improving the gut microbiome.The gut microbiome is the total amount and species of all the microorganisms and all of their collective genetic material present in the gut.“The beneficial impact of these nutrients, found in a wide variety of flowers, has implications for healthier hive management through designing better dietary supplements. It also reemphasizes the need for flowering habitats that can provide bees with access to a rich diversity of pollen and nectar sources,” Seshadri said.While the mechanism is not known for how these four nutrients enhance honey bees’ gut microbiome, p-coumaric acid has been suggested by other researchers to alter gut microbiome diversity by increasing the activity of honey bees’ immunity genes. This perturbs the growth of pathogens acquired while foraging.Example flower sources for these nutrients include: caffeine: citrus and coffee; gallic acid: mint, raspberry, sunflowers and apples; kaempferol: petunias, asters, canola and poppies; and p-coumaric acid: buckwheat, roses, and clover.While caffeine had the single greatest impact, all the four nutrients resulted in the increase in abundance of CommensalibacterSnodgrassella and Bombella bacteria, all of which are considered important core bacteria for a healthy honey bee gut.Changes in the honey bees’ microbiome were seen immediately, just three days after they received the supplements.The growth spurt in the gut microbiome reached a plateau by six days after supplementing the diet with each of the floral nutrients and the levels reset to the original baseline levels when supplements were discontinued.“This fast response shows how much of an impact manipulating honey bees’ diet may have on their microbiome and reiterates the need for diverse flowering plants that can provide bees with ready access to these nutrients,” Seshadri said.

The study was published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.
The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $17 of economic impact.

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Karel Bolckmans, COO with Biobest:

“AI and robotics will bring us to the Olympic version of IPM”

“Data-driven growing is a big thing in horticulture in general. Many growers are into autonomous growing, data-driven greenhouse management, and advanced analytics. We’re convinced that this revolution will impact biological crop protection as well”, says Karel Bolckmans, COO with Biobest. “After all, if artificial intelligence (AI) can help you grow more efficiently and achieve higher yields, it will definitely render further improvement to your IPM program as well.”

“Since retailers want to offer a complete produce gamma year-round of for example greenhouse tomatoes and deal with as few suppliers as possible, we’re seeing an evolution towards rapid scale increase of greenhouse operations. Growers need to grow sufficient quantities of a complete offering twelve months per year, from cherry to beef tomato and everything in between. It results in bigger, multi-site, and international companies that can be complex to control. Data-driven growing enables you to keep track”, Karel explains.

“We also see that data-driven growing performs much better than growers themselves when it comes to optimizing plant growth. We’ll be moving to grow based on hard data, not on gut feeling.”

“The same is true for IPM. The results of biocontrol-based IPM tools are largely dependent on knowing exactly what is going on in the greenhouse. The better you know how your plants and their pests and their natural enemies are doing, the more efficient and effective you will be able to deploy your crop protection tools and the less chemical pesticides you will need to use.”

Partnerships and own development
In May last year, Biobest launched Crop-Scanner, which comprises a scouting App for recording the location, severity, and identity of pests and diseases in the crop. Clearly visualizing these data via its web-based interface through heatmaps and graphs allows the grower to have a better overview of the situation in his crop while allowing his Biobest advisor to give him the best possible technical advice. More recently, Biobest also entered into a partnership with the Canadian company Ecoation, which developed a mobile data harvesting platform that combines deep biology, computer vision and sensor technology, artificial intelligence, and robotics. “We’ve been in touch for several years now and recently decided to work together on creating IPM 3.0. Their camera’s, sensors, and autonomous vehicles allow us to collect the best possible data which serve as input for an artificial intelligence-based Decision Support System (DSS) that allows us to provide the growers with the best-in-class technical advice regarding integrated pest and disease management (IPM)”, Karel explains.  “At the same time, growers have been struggling with several severe virus outbreaks, of which ToBRFV and COVID were only a few. This has made it harder for us to frequently visit our customers in person to provide them with technical advice. But how to get accurate information from growers about the situation in the crop if you can’t visit them? Ecoation’s web-based user interface allows for remote counseling, thereby rendering frequent on-site technical visits are not necessary anymore.”

There’s more… Earlier this month, Biobest announced their investment in Arugga, Israeli developer of a robotic tomato pollinator. It might look like an alternative for the Biobest bumblebees – and actually, it is. “But our goal is not to sell the most bumblebees or beneficial insects and mites. We want to be the grower’s most reliable provider of the most effective solutions in pollination and integrated pest management in a world characterized by rapid innovation.” Although this might sound like a big change in policy for the company, Karel emphasizes that it is not at all as rash a decision as it might seem. “We’re convinced that having access to more accurate information of the status of pests, diseases and natural enemies in their crop will allow growers to develop more trust in biocontrol-based IPM and therefore reach out less fast to the pesticide bottle.”

We have done extensive research for over three years, studying the available technologies and patents. That way, we concluded that Ecoation made a wonderful match, not only in terms of technology but also when it came to vision and company culture. The same goes for Arugga. Their respective technologies support the development of the horticultural business to deal with the ever-increasing challenges of scale-increase, labor shortage, and market demand.”

The technologies Biobest now participates in go beyond IPM. The Ecoation technology for example also concerns yield prediction, high-resolution climate measurements, and controlling the quality of crop work. “Through the Ecoation technology anomalies can be detected much earlier, that way predicting and preventing outbreaks of pests and diseases. Non-stop measuring everywhere is our ideal. This way we will learn more about the effect of climate on the plant and, more importantly, the effects of the crop protection measures.”

Karel notices an increasing interest of growers in this kind of technology. “There is an increasing market demand for residue-free fruits and vegetables. That’s the direction we’re heading to. Our aim is to help growers do this in the best way possible: with the support of robotics and AI.”

Data collection will convince more growers
He is convinced that the data that can be collected will convince more growers to start using the Ecoation and Arugga technologies. “We see now that pioneers in North America are highly interested and are currently successfully trialing these technologies. But it’s more than that: what we sell, is a production increase because of less plant stress from pests and diseases. Moreover, every single pesticide treatment causes plant stress and therefore negatively influences crop yield. This is very well known among experienced growers. ”

He remembers when a couple of decades ago, they saw the same when growers started switching from chemical crop protection to IPM. “I vividly remember 2006-2007 in Spain when many growers made the switch to biological control. They didn’t want to, they were forced by the retailers after the publication of a report on pesticide residues on Spanish produce by Greenpeace Germany. But at the end of that year, everybody was picking more and better peppers. In Kenya and elsewhere, rose growers who switch to biocontrol-based IPM pick more flowers, with a long stem and a better vase life. However, stories like this have never been scientifically quantified and published but are very well known to everyone in the industry. With our technologies, we will be able to immediately and continuously measure the exact effects of IPM on crop yield. Less work, more objective data. That means harvesting more kilos with less effort. AI and robotics will bring us to the Olympic version of IPM.”For more information:Biobestinfo@biobestgroup.comwww.biobestgroup.com

Publication date: Fri 25 Jun 2021
Author: Arlette Sijmonsma
© HortiDaily.com

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The impact of field margins on nature and biodiversity 
Field margins are important habitats and networks for nature and they provide corridors for the movement of wildlife and a place for native flora to flourish, without impacting on productivity. File Picture. 

SUN, 20 JUN, 2021 – 17:00AOIFE WALSH 

Thinking about the world outside of the field by managing its margins can have a very positive impact on nature and contribute to the improvement of biodiversity on Irish farms. 

Field margins are important habitats and networks for nature and they provide corridors for the movement of wildlife and a place for native flora to flourish, without impacting on productivity.

Aoife Walsh, Teagasc, and UCD MAIS student highlights some of the key actions that farmers can take to ensure that field margins are retained, maintained, and enhanced for farmland biodiversity.

“Field margins are easy to manage strips of naturally growing vegetation that are found along the edge of fields beside linear features like hedgerows. 

“Field margins are extremely valuable biodiversity habitats that are structurally different from what you might find in the centre of a ryegrass field.

“They are comprised of a variety of plants, including naturally growing wildflowers and grasses that produce flowers and seeds which benefit seed-eating birds like the House Sparrow, the Linnet and the Yellowhammer and pollinators like Bumblebees and solitary bees who avail of pollen and nectar from the margin’s flowering plants.

“Field margins facilitate the movement of wildlife throughout the farming landscape, acting as a highway for nature and providing cover for small mammals like shrews and voles, in turn providing owls with an ideal hunting ground.” 

Field margins require some management in order to optimise them as habitats for biodiversity, Aoife adds. 


In grazing situations, field margins should be fenced off to exclude livestock. The area that is fenced can range in width with wider margins providing more room for biodiversity. 

This action will further enhance the structural diversity of the margin by allowing vegetation to flower and go-to-seed.

“Margins should be cut in autumn after plants have flowered, at least once every three years, and this will prevent the vegetation within the margin becoming too rank or turning into scrub.” 


In addition, a minimum space of 1.5m between the main field crop and the base of the surrounding boundary should be maintained when spraying, cultivating, and applying fertiliser, urges Aoife.

“Increasing the width of field margins reduces the need for sprays as the space created will allow for a hedge cutter to mechanically control any encroachment. 

“Blanket spraying under the wire should be avoided as this will lead to the removal of plant diversity. If chemically controlling noxious weeds (ragwort, thistle, docks, male wild hop, common barberry, and wild oats, as listed under the noxious weed act) targeted spot spraying should be practised.

“As is the case with spraying, cultivation also leads to the removal of field margin habitats. 

“Maintaining a minimum distance of 1.5m out from the base of boundaries when cultivating will ensure that an area of margin remains undisturbed allowing the existing diversity to continue to flourish.

  • Aoife Walsh, Teagasc

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The Humidity of Flowers Acts As An Invisible Attractor For Bumblebees

University of Bristol

22-Jun-2021 6:05 AM EDT, by University of Bristolfavorite_border

Newswise — As well as bright colours and subtle scents, flowers possess many invisible ways of attracting their pollinators, and a new study shows that bumblebees may use the humidity of a flower to tell them about the presence of nectar, according to scientists at the Universities of Bristol and Exeter.

This new research has shown that bumblebees are able to accurately detect and choose between flowers that have different levels of humidity next to the surface of the flower.

The study, published this week in the Journal of Experimental Biology, showed that bees could be trained to differentiate between two types of artificial flower with different levels of humidity, if only one of the types of flower provided the bee with a reward of sugar water.

To make sure that the artificial flowers mimicked the humidity patterns seen in real flowers, the researchers built a robotic sensor that was able to accurately measure the shape of the humidity patterning.

Dr Michael Harrap carried out the research whilst based at the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences and is lead author of the study. He said: “We know that different species of plants produce flowers that have distinct patterns of humidity, which differ from the surrounding air. Knowing that bees might use these patterns to help them find food shows that flowers have evolved a huge variety of different ways of attracting pollinators, that make use of all the pollinators’ senses.”

Professor Natalie Hempel de Ibarra, Associate Professor at the University of Exeter’s School of Psychology, explained: “Our study shows that bumblebees not only use this sensory information to make choices about how they behave, but are also capable of learning to distinguish between humidity patterns in a similar way to how they learn to recognise the colour or smell of a flower.”

Dr Sean Rands, Senior Lecturer in the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, added: “If humidity patterns are important for attracting pollinators, they are likely to be one of several different signals (such as colour, scent and pattern) that a flower is using at the same time, and could help the bee to identify and handle the flower more efficiently.

“The effectiveness of humidity patterns may depend upon the humidity of the environment around the flower; climate change may affect this environmental humidity, which in turn could have a negative effect on a visiting bee because the effectiveness of the humidity pattern will be altered.”


‘Bumblebees can detect floral humidity’ in Journal of Experimental Biology by Michael J. M. Harrap, Natalie Hempel de Ibarra, Henry D. Knowles, Heather M. Whitney and Sean A. Rands

Issued by the University of Bristol Media & PR Team on Tuesday 22 June 2021.





Journal of Experimental Biology, June 2021


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  • 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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Fungus fights mites that harm honey bees

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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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