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Archive for the ‘pollinators’ Category

Virginia Tech earns Bee Campus USA certification for its work with pollinators and vision for conservation

“The importance of Bee Campus is making a long-term commitment with a long-term vision to ultimately create a sustainable habitat for pollinators” said entomologist Margaret Couvillon.

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17 JUN 2022

Approximately a6 minute read

Lavender Planting at Hillcrest Hall for Bee Campus USA certification.
Students, faculty, and staff worked together to plant lavender behind Hillcrest Hall to make the area more pollinator friendly. Photo by Sarah Myers for Virginia Tech.

For the first time, Virginia Tech earned the Bee Campus USA certification for commitment to sustaining native insect pollinators, a designation that further cements the university’s Climate Action Commitment to create a green and sustainable campus. The initiative is sponsored by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

“Over the next few years, our committee will work toward designing and implementing projects and education opportunities that will help make our world more bee-friendly,” said Margaret Couvillon, assistant professor of pollinator biology in the Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who serves as chair of the committee that organized the certification.

Bee Campus USA certification requirements serve as a guideline for affiliated campuses such as Virginia Tech to increase their commitment to preserving these native pollinators. This is achieved through a long-term plan to increase native plant habitat, provide pollinator nesting sites, reduce pesticide use on campus, and develop pollinator conservation education and outreach opportunities for the campus community.

“This is another recognition of our efforts in the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities and across the university to advance campus sustainability,” said Matt Gart, grounds manager. “To support pollinators on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus, we consciously select mostly native plants and shrubs that require minimal maintenance and pesticides. We also allow perimeters of campus – such as the area beyond the grass shoulders along Southgate Drive to Route 460 – to grow as a meadow with infrequent mowing.”

Pollinators are responsible for the reproduction of at least 85 percent of the world’s flowering plants. A third of all food humans eat comes from plants that rely on pollinators, with native insect pollinators contributing a large portion of this pollination. In the United States, native pollinators contribute to the yearly reproduction of an estimated $3 billion worth of crops.

Unfortunately, research shows these native insect pollinator populations are declining worldwide, due to habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change. Global efforts are needed to preserve these insects and ensure farms are still able to produce the crops the world needs.

The Virginia Tech Bee Campus Standing Committee is composed of 17 dedicated and enthusiastic students, faculty, and staff from many different disciplines across campus.

“I’ve never seen a program get up and running as fast as Bee Campus at Virginia Tech. In less than a full academic year, we were able to get accepted as a Bee Campus affiliate. We could not have done it without the support and excitement from all of the students who have gotten involved along the way,” said Emily Vollmer, the sustainability coordinator in the Office of Sustainability, which is part of the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities and a driving force behind Virginia Tech’s Bee Campus USA certification. 

The Virginia Tech Bee Campus USA Committee
The Virginia Tech Bee Campus Standing Committee. Photo by Sarah Myers for Virginia Tech.

This certification also works toward fulfilling aspects of the 2020 Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment. The commitment seeks to achieve carbon neutrality by changing the university’s physical infrastructure, collective and individual behaviors, and educational mission. By becoming affiliated with Bee Campus USA, Virginia Tech will work closer to reaching Goals 6 and 10 of the Climate Action Commitment.

Goal 6 seeks to ensure that Virginia Tech’s agricultural, forestry, and land use operations will be carbon neutral by 2030. Reducing the use of carbon-emitting pesticide treatments will help contribute to this goal.

James Wilson, collegiate assistant professor and Extension apiculturist in the Department of Entomology, is the pollinator protection and Integrated Pest Management Team leader. His team’s responsibility is to use cutting-edge research to reduce pesticide use focusing on reducing pesticide applications that are most harmful to pollinators. By focusing instead on integrated pest management programs, pesticide applicators will make informed decisions about the most efficient methods for pesticide application, reducing harm to both our environment and pollinator populations.

Goal 10 of the Climate Action Commitment seeks to integrate the commitment into Virginia Tech’s educational mission by way of the Climate Action Living Laboratory. This utilizes the university’s beautiful campus and surrounding area to teach students about climate action initiatives and the importance of preserving our environment. Through pollinator conservation education and outreach, the Bee Campus USA program will raise awareness, involve students in service learning projects, enhance the campus green spaces, and create better habitats for native pollinators. All of these educational and outreach opportunities can only take place in a living laboratory setting.

Vollmer is leading many of these service learning projects, and she places a strong emphasis on student engagement in Bee Campus USA projects.

“The Bee Campus program provides an opportunity for students to get involved with sustainability on campus in a way that works for them. Students are welcome to serve on our committee and develop plans for reducing pesticide use, identify areas for new pollinator habitat, or inventory our current pollinator habitats around campus. They can attend our service learning events throughout the year, or they can simply follow us on social media to get the latest news on our Bee Campus efforts.” Vollmer said.

Virginia Tech Pollinator Walk through Hahn Garden for Bee Campus USA
Emily Vollmer speaks at a pollinator walk through Hahn Horticulture Garden. Photo by Sarah Myers for Virginia Tech.

This program has already created a buzz around campus.

In early spring, the committee led a lavender planting behind Hillcrest Hall, which turned a grassy area into a pollinator-friendly garden. Its members also led an educational pollinator walkthrough of Hahn Horticulture Garden, where Couvillon and members of her lab educated attendees about pollinators and plants beneficial to them. Her lab’s research will continue to help inform the committee on the best practices to promote pollinator health and create flourishing gardens for them.

“The importance of Bee Campus is making a long-term commitment with a long-term vision to ultimately create a sustainable habitat for pollinators. But most importantly it brings Hokies together around the shared cause of working to conserve insect pollinators,” Couvillon said.

Looking ahead, there will be three additional student-proposed pollinator gardens planted on the Blacksburg campus, funded through the Office of Sustainability’s Green RFP Program.

To keep up with all the latest about Virginia Tech’s Bee Campus USA affiliation check out our Bee Campus InstagramTwitter, and website.

Virginia Tech has also been a part of Tree Campus USA for 14 years

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Winter Honey Bees Show Resistance to a Common Insecticide

USDA Agricultural Research Service sent this bulletin at 06/21/2022 09:45 AM EDT

View as a webpageARS News ServiceARS News ServiceHoney bees in large cages.
Honey bees feed on imidacloprid during a cage experiment. (Photo by Mohamed Alburaki, ARS)Winter Honey Bees Show Resistance to a Common InsecticideFor media inquiries contact: Jessica Ryan
June 21, 2022Winter honey bees, compared to newly emerged summer bees, have a better ability to withstand the harmful effects of a widely-used insecticide in pest management, according to a recent study published in Apidologie.United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researchers from the Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, found winter honey bees’ consumption of a nearly lethal, imidacloprid-laced syrup did not affect their survival during the study.Imidacloprid is an insecticide made to mimic nicotine and is toxic to insects. This powerful insecticide is widely used in agriculture for pest management control. Honey bees are likely to encounter imidacloprid while foraging in the field or through contaminated hive products.”Although imidacloprid toxicity to honey bees is an important concern for beekeepers, our results provide good news,” said Miguel Corona and Mohamed Alburaki, researchers at the ARS Bee Research Laboratory. “Our research shows that winter honey bees have unrecognized physiological mechanisms to counteract the effects of insecticides.”The study assessed differences in diet behaviors for summer and winter honey bees in a controlled laboratory setting. Researchers provided sublethal doses of the imidacloprid-laced syrup to bees as necessary. Winter bees showed a preference to consuming imidacloprid-laced syrup over untreated sugar syrup while summer honey bees made the safe choice and avoided consuming the laced syrup each time.According to Corona, it is important to study the differences of summer and winter honey bees’ diets.  Honey bee colonies survive extreme seasonal differences in temperature and forage by producing two seasonal phenotypes of workers: summer and winter bees. These seasonal phenotypes differ significantly in their psychological characteristics as well as their susceptibility to disease and ability to handle poisonous substances.”Winter bees and summer bees undergo physiological changes to cope with drastic seasonal changes in temperature and the availability of nutritional resources,” said Corona and Alburaki. “Our results suggest that long-lived winter bees are especially well-adapted to tolerate higher levels of chemical stressors.”Corona said that although the study’s results show that winter bees could tolerate more intoxication by imidacloprid, they are still susceptible to higher concentrations of this insecticide in field settings.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 archiveU.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Agricultural Research Service

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Site logo image Entomology Today posted: ” By Laura Kraft, Ph.D. As gardeners become more interested in seeking out pollinator-friendly plants, the horticulture industry has a growing need to reliably measure and label plants for their ability to attract bees, butterflies, flies, and ot” Entomology Today What’s the Best Way to Measure Pollinator Attractiveness of Cultivated Flower Varieties? Entomology Today Jun 8 What makes a flower worthy of “pollinator friendly” status? And how is that measured? A new study makes strides toward a more standardized and scalable approach for measuring plants’ pollinator attractiveness. Read more of this post   Comment   Unsubscribe to no longer receive posts from Entomology Today.
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‘Honeybees are not endangered and are doing just fine’: Xerces Society says it’s time to end public confusion, refocus on native species

Avery Hurt | Discover | May 2, 2022

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Credit: Deborah Shapiro
Credit: Deborah Shapiro

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation. It is posted under Fair Use guidelines.

When Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurred around 2006 and entire colonies of honeybees died, experts and the public alike were justifiably alarmed. The campaign to “save the honeybees” somehow got entangled in our minds with “save the pollinators” and “save the planet.”

It was a misunderstanding. Yes, beekeepers are still struggling, and healthy honeybees are important, especially for commercial agriculture. But honeybees are not endangered.

In fact, there are more honeybees on the planet now than there ever have been. And that, is because we manage them, says Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society, an international nonprofit focused on invertebrate conservation.

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Experts may not consider honeybees endangered, but plenty of native bees are. And this means the plants that depend on them for pollination are endangered as well, putting entire ecosystems at risk. Black points out that there are at least 3,600 species of wild bees in North America, and those animals are in serious decline, many of them in danger of extinction.

He adds that this has gotten confusing for people. Some heard about declines in honeybees and kept hives thinking they were helping to save the bees, but Black likens that to raising chickens to save birds.

This is an excerpt. Read the original post here

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These flowers lure pollinators to their deaths. There’s a new twist on how

Two species of jack-in-the-pulpits may use sex scents to lure male fungus gnats

images of A. angustatum, left, and A. peninsulae, right
These two jack-in-the-pulpit Arisaema species may fake out their male gnat pollinators by wafting scents of gnat sex, but the plants (A. angustatum, left, and A. peninsulae, right) are dangerous places for their tiny visitors.K. SUETSUGU/PLANTS, PEOPLE, PLANET 2022

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By Susan Milius

APRIL 19, 2022 AT 9:00 AM

Fake — and fatal — invitations to romance could be the newest bit of trickery uncovered among some jack-in-the-pulpit wildflowers.

The fatal part isn’t the surprise. Jack-in-the-pulpits (Arisaema) are the only plants known to kill their own insect pollinators as a matter of routine, says evolutionary ecologist Kenji Suetsugu of Kobe University in Japan. The new twist, if confirmed, would be using sexual deception to woo pollinators into the death traps.

Until now, biologists have found only three plant families with any species that pretend to offer sex to insects, Suetsugu says online March 28 in Plants, People, Planet. But unlike deceit in jack-in-the-pulpits, those other attractions aren’t fatal, just phony.

The orchid family has turned out multiple cheats, some so seductive that a male insect leaves wasted sperm as well as pollen on a flower. Yet he doesn’t get even a sip of nectar (SN: 3/5/08; SN: 3/27/08). Similar scams have turned up among daisies: A few dark bumps that a human in bad light might mistake for an insect can drive male flies to frenzies on the yellow, orange or red Gorteria petals. Enthusiasm wanes with repeated disappointment though (SN: 1/29/14). And among irises, a species dangles velvety purple petals where deluded insects wallow.

Ophrys speculum, Gorteria diffusa, Iris paradoxa
Until now, luring pollinators with false offers of insect sex has turned up in only three plant families. Hundreds of orchids cheat (including Ophrys speculum, left). So does a daisy with alluring insect-like petal bumps (Gorteria diffusa, middle) and an iris (Iris paradoxa, right) with some dark dangling petals.STEVEN JOHNSON (DAISY) AND JORUN THARALDSEN (ORCHID, IRIS) FROM D.C.J. WONG, J. PERKINS AND R. PEAKALL/FRONTIERS IN PLANT SCIENCE 2022

Two jack-in-the-pulpit species in Japan have now raised suspicions that their family, the arums, should be added to the list of sexual cheats. To visually oriented humans, the 180 or so Arisaema species look like just a merry reminder of evolution’s endless weirdness. Some kind of flappy canopy, sometimes striped, bends over a little cupped “pulpit” with a pinkie-tip stub or mushroom bulge of plant flesh peeping over the rim. Below the rim, swaths of flowers open in succession — male blooms overtaken by flowers with female parts — as the plant grows from slim young jack to big mama.

These oddball flowers depend mostly on pollinators that deserve a much bigger fan base: fungus gnats. These gnats, small as punctuation marks and hard to identify, are true flies. But don’t hold that against them. They don’t stalk picnic spreads or buzz-thump against windows. Pollinating gnats “are very frail,” Suetsugu says, and their wings make no noise a human can hear.

Nor can a human always smell what draws fungus gnats. It’s clear, though, that the varied canopied pulpits can have a strong happy hour lure for those cruising pollinators looking to meet the right gnat. This will go terribly wrong.

A tiny escape hatch deep in the trap stays open during the male phase of flowering, but that two-millimeter hole vanishes during the big mama stage. A gnat can’t overcome the slippery, flaking wax of the plant’s inner wall to climb out.  So any gnat tricked twice is doomed.

Biologists had assumed that jack-in-the-pulpits seeking fungus gnats were perfuming the air with mushroomy, nice-place-to-have-kids scents. Many kinds seem to do so, but homey smells don’t explain an odd observation by Suetsugu and his colleagues. Of the important pollinator species for two Japanese jack-in-the-pulpits (A. angustatum and A. peninsulae), almost all the specks found in the traps were males.

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An odor lure targeting males might mimic a come-hither scent of female gnats, the researchers propose. That’s outright fraud. Even if the hopeful males find a mate in the waxy green dungeon, they and their offspring would starve. They’re stuck in a plant with no fungus to eat. Whatever that ruinous scent is, a human nose can barely detect it, Suetsugu reports.

The notion that biologists have so far overlooked a scent important to other animals seems “more than possible” to Kelsey J.R.P. Byers of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England. Byers’ work overturned a common assumption that monkeyflowers (Mimulus) had no scent even though hawkmoths, flying at night and known to track odors, visit the flowers.

“We’re such visual creatures,” says Byers, who studies floral scents. We can laugh at how insects mistake some off-color blob of plant tissue for a fabulous female, but we’re missing the odors. Fungus gnats, however, even look like the citizens of a smellier world, with giant guy-style antennae “like an ostrich plume on a hat.”

At least now, modern analytical lab techniques and equipment are opening up the vast sensory world of communication wafting around us. To see if even familiar plants like jack-in-the-pulpits are up to something odd, scientists need to identify the lure itself. Then maybe we’ll understand the irresistible valentine scent of a female fungus gnat.

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

CITATIONS

K. Suetsugu.  Arisaema: Pollination by lethal attractionPlants, Planet, People. Published online March 28, 2022. doi: 10.1002/ppp3.10261.

Susan Milius

About Susan Milius

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Talk to shed light on new mite threat

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The Tropilaelaps mite remains offshore, to the relief of beekeepers as they struggle with...

The Tropilaelaps mite remains offshore, to the relief of beekeepers as they struggle with increasing varroa infestations. PHOTO: TIM CRONSHAW

Beekeepers are starting to get edgy about another mite that pairs up overseas with varroa to become a twin pest.

They will learn more about the Tropilaelaps mite when keynote speaker Dr Sammy Ramsey reveals his latest research at the Apiculture New Zealand Conference in Christchurch in June.

The United States academic raised the pest problem in his last visit in 2019, but more has been learned about its interplay with varroa mites.

Varroa is a growing concern among beekeepers. A national survey by the beekeeping industry and Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has revealed that nearly 14% of the country’s bee hives were lost last winter, with nearly 40% of those victims of varroa infestations.

The Tropilaelaps mite’s preference for hot climates could work in the favour of New Zealand beekeepers, but it is in Papua New Guinea now — and too close for comfort to the Australian border.

Dr Ramsey is researching the varroa and tropilaelaps mites in Thailand.

He has found they have a complex interplay when they are in the same colony at the same time. Scientists had thought that varroa and tropilaelaps “didn’t play nicely”, but his data shows this is not always the case.

They can reproduce in the same colonies, and in the same cells, and their impact is amplified when they are together.

Apiculture New Zealand chief executive Karin Kos said varroa was the number one issue for winter losses among beekeepers, but they were always interested in overseas findings about new pests and diseases.

“Beekeepers became more aware of the tropilaelaps mite after Sammy’s presentation in 2019, and I guess it would be fair to say it hasn’t come to the country and it’s probably not warm enough yet here, but that could change with climate change.”

Apiculture New Zealand chief executive Karin Kos says top overseas speakers will reveal the...

Apiculture New Zealand chief executive Karin Kos says top overseas speakers will reveal the latest science on bee pest problems at the industry’s conference. PHOTO: APICULTURE NEW ZEALAND

She said a more pressing concern was the small hive mite, which was in Australia, and MPI was looking at ways that beekeepers could be part of its surveillance programme.

The other keynote speaker is another leading US researcher, Dr Jamie Ellis, who will also talk about bee predators and encourage beekeepers to address queen events.

He has found that beekeepers are slow to adopt many strains of bees in the US that are resistant to varroa. These traits are lost quickly if only 10%of beekeepers invest in varroa-resistant queen stock, and industry change was needed.

Hundreds of beekeepers, honey producers and others from across the apiculture industry are expected to attend the two-day conference and trade exhibition.

Mental health advocate and television personality Mike King will also be sharing his advice for getting through difficult times as beekeepers grapple with varroa and market changes.

Ms Kos said beekeepers had gone through a tough spell, with orders having eased after two record years of honey exports, and prices having dropped as particularly manuka production had outstripped demand.

“There is quite a lot of honey in sheds and the problem hasn’t gone away. The health and wellness [factor of honey] is huge around the world and that’s a positive for the industry, but the reality is we have to find more markets.”

She said beekeeping was an isolated profession and the conference would help bring beekeepers together as well as reveal the latest research and science.

This tied in with the conference theme of sharing knowledge and sharing the load for a better future, she said.

tim.cronshaw@alliedpress.co.nz

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Thursday, 07 April 2022 20:18:00

Grahame Jackson posted a new submission ‘ARS-Developed Varroa-Resistant Honey Bees Better Winter Survivors’

Submission

ARS-Developed Varroa-Resistant Honey Bees Better Winter Survivors

USDA-ARS

For media inquiries contact: Kim Kaplan, 301-588-5314

Baton Rouge, La., April 7, 2022—Pol-line honey bees, a type of , are more than twice as likely to survive through the winter than standard honey bees, according to a study published in Scientific Reports at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-08643-w

Although ARS developed Pol-line bees in 2014, this study was the first time that they were tested head-to-head alongside standard honey bee stock in commercial apiaries providing pollination services and producing honey. Colonies’ ability to survive winter without being treated to control Varroa mites was followed in four states: Mississippi, California, and North and South Dakota.

In this study, Pol-line colonies that were given no treatment to control Varroa mites in the fall had a survival rate of 62.5 percent compared to standard bees colonies in commercial apiaries also given no fall Varroa treatment, which had a winter survival rate of 3 percent.

When Pol-line colonies and standard colonies were treated against Varroa mites in both fall and December, Pol-line bees had a winter survival rate of 72 percent while standard bees had a survival rate of 56 percent. So, Pol-line bees still had a better winter survival rate regardless of receiving double Varroa mite treatment.

“These survival results continue to highlight the importance of beekeepers needing to manage Varroa infestations. The ability to have high colony survival with reduced or no Varroa treatments can allow beekeepers to save money and time,” said research molecular biologist Michael Simone-Finstrom, co-leader of the study with research entomologist Frank Rinkevich, both with the ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology Research Laboratory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

This research was the culmination of breeding efforts to develop honey bee colonies with naturally low Varroa populations that began at the Baton Rouge lab in the late 1990s.

Winter colony survival is crucial for beekeepers because in February each year, about 2.5 million honey bee colonies are needed in California to pollinate almond crops. Larger, healthier colonies bring beekeepers premium pollination contracts at about $220 a colony.

Varroa mites can cause massive colony losses; they are the single largest problem facing beekeepers since they spread to the United States from Southeast Asia in 1987. While miticides used to control Varroa exist, resistance is developing to some of them.

“We would like to replace reliance on chemical controls with honey bees like Pol-line that have high mite resistance of their own and perform well, including high honey production, in commercial beekeeping operations. Pol-line’s high mite resistance is based on their behavior for removing Varroa by expelling infested pupae—where Varroa mites reproduce—a trait called Varroa-sensitive hygiene (VSH),” said Rinkevich.

“Beyond Pol-line bees, we need to create advanced and easy breeding selection tools that beekeepers can use to select resistance traits in their own bees to promote VSH behavior in honey bees across the country,” Simone-Finstrom said. “The great thing about this particular trait is that we’ve learned honey bees of all types express it at some level, so we know with the right tools, it can be promoted and selected in everyone’s bees.”

Evolutionary ecologist Thomas O’Shea-Wheller, now with the University of Exeter in England, who worked on the study while a post-doc with Louisiana State University under professor Kristen Healy pointed out, “This kind of resistance provides a natural and sustainable solution to the threat posed by Varroa mites. It does not rely on chemicals or human intervention.”

In addition, overall winter survival, the scientists examined the levels of viruses in Pol-line and standard bee colonies that are commonly transmitted by varroa mites.

The Pol-line colonies showed significantly lower levels of three major viruses: Deformed wing virus A, Deformed wing virus B and Chronic bee paralysis virus, all of which can cause significant problems for colonies.

“Interestingly, when we looked at the levels of virus infection separately from the levels of mite infestation, we found there wasn’t a strong correlation between viral loads and colony survival. You could not use the level of these viruses as good predictors of colony losses,” Simone-Finstrom said.

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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Bees deliver anti-botrytis booster

System using bees to ‘immunise’ strawberries from botrytis to be introduced in UK at online ‘Feel the Buzz’ event

Bees deliver anti-botrytis booster

A bumblebee carrying the BVT all-natural plant protection product directly to a bloom (credit: BVT)

Fresh Produce Journal

  • An innovative bee delivery system that builds up the natural immunity of plants to various fungal diseases, including Botrytis, a global threat to fresh fruit and vegetables, is to be introduced to the UK at an online Agri-TechE event ‘Feel the Buzz’ on 26 April 2022.
  • Canadian company Bee Vectoring Technology (BVT) uses commercially reared bumblebees to deliver a beneficial fungus that boosts the plants immune system, increasing its resilience to botrytis. A tiny amount, just one teaspoon an acre of active ingredient, is delivered directly to the flowers of strawberries while they are being pollinated by the bumblebees, which protects them from infection.

Botrytis can have a devasting impact on the yield of strawberries and other crops. It enters the plant through its flowers or wounds and lays dormant until the conditions are moist, or the plant is weakened. The grey mould spreads quickly in warm damp conditions, so undercover crops are particularly vulnerable.

Ashish Malik, chief executive officer (CEO) of BVT, will talk about this innovative system at Agri-TechE’s Feel the Buzz online event. Previously the VP of global marketing for biologics at Bayer CropScience, where he was responsible for advancing its strategy to develop integrated crop solutions that include biological products together with traditional chemical products, Malik sees potential for the bee vectors to deliver a range of products.

He said: “Bee Vectoring is an innovative all-natural system which helps produce a better berry crop – including higher yields, and better shelf life – all without the use of chemicals. The application of the plant protection product using bees does not use water, and does not require heavy machinery, so no fossil fuels are used either.  It is a breakthrough, environmental system which is giving excellent results.”

The BVT uses both honeybees and bumblebees, with the former optimised for open fields, whilst the latter tend to be a better option indoors and for certain outdoor crops. Bumblebees can carry more powder, fly in colder temperatures, require no maintenance and have hives that last longer (6-10 weeks, their natural life cycle).

Commenting on the technology, Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-TechE, said: “Insects perform a range of services as pollinators and natural predators. There is much discussion of falling numbers, but we are reviewing technologies such as AI and acoustics that can enhance their effectiveness and utility whilst discussing ways that producers can overcome the shortage.”

Ashish Malik will be speaking alongside Tasha Tucker, CEO of Olombria, and Casey Woodward, CEO of AgriSound, Eric Hewitson, BDM of Wyld Networks, and Richard Rogers, Principal Scientist at Bayer, at the Agri-TechE event ‘Feel the Buzz’ on Tuesday 26 April, online. The discussion will include how to encourage pollinators, enhance their efficiency, and even harness them to do additional jobs.
 

Enjoyed this free article from Fresh Produce Journal and its team of editors? Don’t miss out on even more in-depth analysis, plus all the latest news from the fresh produce business. Subscribe now to Fresh Produce Journal.

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Research Finds Protecting Pollinators is Critical For Food Security in Africa

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Agrilinks Team

Nov 06, 2020

butterfly
Photo Credit: Aleksandra Georgieva

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

Background

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

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

Assessing pollinator diversity

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

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

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

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

Bee health R4D in support of pollination services

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

Improving habitat protection and restoration

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

Strengthening pest and disease surveillance and management

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

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

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

Understanding the bee microbiome to improve pollination services

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

Modeling climate change impact on pollinators

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

Strengthening the capacity of farmers and national systems

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

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Research Finds Protecting Pollinators is Critical For Food Security in Africa

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Nov 06, 2020

butterfly
Photo Credit: Aleksandra Georgieva

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

Background

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

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

Assessing pollinator diversity

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

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

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

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

Bee health R4D in support of pollination services

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

Improving habitat protection and restoration

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

Strengthening pest and disease surveillance and management

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

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

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

Understanding the bee microbiome to improve pollination services

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

Modeling climate change impact on pollinators

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

Strengthening the capacity of farmers and national systems

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

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A monarch butterfly sits on an orange flower
There were up to 70% fewer pollinators for plants in polluted air in the study. Image © Nikola Bilic/Shutterstock

NEWS

Bees, butterflies and moths ‘confused’ by air pollution

By James Ashworth

First published 24 January 2022

Bees and butterflies are ‘confused’ by air pollution, making them less able to seek out the crops that both humans and insects depend upon.

In some cases, the presence of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and ozone resulted in as much as a 90% decline in flower visits by pollinators.

Air pollution obscures the sweet smell of flowers, making it much harder for pollinators to find them.

Research led by the University of Reading found that insects including bees, flies, moths and butterflies were being impaired by air pollution, reducing pollination rates by as much as 31%. 

With 70% of the world’s crops, including apples, strawberries and cocoa, relying on insect pollination, scientists are concerned that the impact of common air pollutants goes far beyond impacts on human health.

Lead author Dr James Ryalls, says, ‘The findings are worrying because these pollutants are commonly found in the air many of us breathe every day. We know that these pollutants are bad for our health, and the significant reductions we saw in pollinator numbers and activity shows that there are also clear implications for the natural ecosystems we depend on.’

The findings of the study were published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

Cars in a queue with exhaust fumes rising around them
Common air pollutants include ground-level ozone, nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides. Image © LanaElcova/Shutterstock

What is air pollution?

Air pollutants are commonly found across the world and include any substance that contaminates the environment by modifying the normal characteristics of the atmosphere.

After fuels are burnt, the waste products (as well as their impurities) can react in the atmosphere to produce a variety of harmful products. Common air pollutants include nitrogen oxides, ozone, sulphur oxides and particulates.

These have a diverse range of impacts, from causing acid rain to harming health. Air pollution has both short and long-term health impacts, from shortness of breath and exacerbating asthma to increasing the risk of heart failure.

As a result, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that these pollutants cause around four million deaths a year, and suggest that 91% of the global population live in areas where air pollution exceeds recommended limits.

Aside from its impact on people, air pollution also impacts the natural world. In vertebrates, air pollution can cause similar issues as in humans, while pollutants like ozone and particulate matter can impair the ability of plants to photosynthesise.

The scents that plants produce to attract their insect pollinators are also affected by air pollution. While there are a number of ways insects find plants to pollinate, scent is one of the most important. However, air pollution can react with the compounds in these scents, making them much less recognisable to the insects they are supposed to be attracting.

The researchers wanted to investigate how this impacted pollinators in practice, by running an experiment testing their ability to find plants to pollinate.

Dr Robbie Girling, one of the paper’s co-authors, described the findings as ‘much more dramatic than we had expected.’

Bees landing on a yellow flower
Pollution reduced the visits of pollinators to the plants by up to 90% in some cases. Image © RUKSUTAKARN studio/Shutterstock

Pollinators in peril

The researchers used a purpose-built facility to regulate the levels of nitrogen oxides and ozone in a field environment, looking at the impacts these pollutants had on free-flying local pollinators and the pollination of black mustard.

They found that there up to 70% fewer pollinators for plants in polluted air, which led to a reduction in pollination of up to 31%.

With 8% of the value of agricultural food production worldwide dependent on pollinators, productivity declines from pollution could be causing billions of pounds worth of economic damage each year.

Furthermore, the levels of pollution used in the study were below the average maximum levels known from the real world, with scientists using concentrations around half of that deemed safe by the US government. 

These higher levels of air pollution in the real world could mean that the impacts on pollinators and other insect life are more severe than demonstrated in this study.

The UK Government says that it intends to tackle air pollution through a variety of techniques, including the consideration of an SMS air pollution alert scheme and aiming to set new targets for particulates and other pollutants. 

To find out levels of air pollution in your area, visit DEFRA’s forecasting site here.


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