Improving pollinator habitat nationwide

September 24th, 2010
By: Kathy Keatley Garvey, UC Newsroom

DAVIS — Native pollinator specialist Neal Williams, assistant professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, has received a three-year federally funded research grant aimed at improving pollinator habitat plantings in nationwide agricultural settings.

The $343,884 grant, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, target projects in three states where crops dependent on insect pollination are concentrated: California, Michigan and New Jersey. The fourth site component is inter-regional research coordinated by the Xerces Society for Insect Conservation, based in Portland, Ore.

“Recent declines in honey bee populations and the threat of losses in pollination service to economically important crops has raised awareness of the importance of restoring and conserving native bee diversity and abundance,” Williams said. The economic value of insect-pollinated crops in the United States was estimated at $18.9 billion in 2000.

“We will be developing simplified assessment tools that will allow land stewards to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of future habitat restorations,” Williams said.

The grant, “Development and Validation of Protocols for Assessing Functioning of Pollinator Habitat Plantings for Agricultural Settings,” is closely linked with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) commitment to enroll acreage in its pollinator restoration programs. A key priority of NRCS is to enhance pollinator habitat in agricultural landscapes to promote both managed and wild bees.

The success of NRCS investment in these programs “will depend on the effectiveness of pollinator habitat restorations in supporting native pollination populations and enhancing other beneficial insects, while avoiding the augmentation of pest insects,” Williams said.

The team directed by Williams will evaluate shifts in insect populations resulting from restoration practices and establish protocols for insect monitoring data that other practitioners can easily employ.

This may encourage farmers to enroll in pollinator planting programs, especially if the sites don’t attract insect pests.

The specific goals:

1. To quantify the effects of pollinator habitat enhancements on populations of pollinators, other beneficial insects and pests

2. To identify the value of individual plant species and overall level of floral resources required to support pollinators and other desirable insects

3. To develop streamlined monitoring protocols that will enable practitioners to assess success in future pollinator habitat restorations

4. To provide technical notes, trainings and websites that foster implementation of these simplified technical guidelines.

The three-year grant, effective Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2013, follows the passage of the 2008 Farm Bill, which identifies pollinators as a priority resource of concern. Honey bees are beset by parasitic mites, diseases, the mysterious colony collapse disorder and other problems. Habitat loss, disease, parasites, pesticide use and agricultural intensification threaten native bees.

Williams said native bees can provide insurance in the face of honey bee declines. Already native bees provide significant pollination services to crops such as watermelon. Research by entomologist Rachael Winfree of Rutgers shows that native bees are capable of “fully pollinating 90 percent of watermelon on farms in central New Jersey and east-central Pennsylvania,” Williams said.

The project coordinators include:

California: Kimiora Ward, research associate, UC Davis Department of Entomology, who helped prepare the grant; Rachael Long, pest management specialist, UC Cooperative Extension; and the NRCS Plant Materials Center, Lockeford

Michigan: Rufus Isaacs, berry crops entomologist, Michigan State University (MSU), East Lansing; Julianna Tuell, postdoctoral researcher at MSU; Michigan State NRCS; Michigan Farm Service Agency; and Michigan Wildflower Farm

New Jersey: Rachael Winfree, assistant professor, Department of Entomology, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; Dan Cariveau, postdoctoral research associate, Rutgers; and George Hamilton, professor, Rutgers

Inter-regional: Mace Vaughan, Xerces Society for Insect Conservation, Portland, Ore.

All collaborators also are involved in developing wildflower species to sustain native bee populations.

Read this article at UC Newsroom