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Investigating Alternative Pollinators

High-value fruit, nut, and vegetable crops in Mid-Atlantic states are being affected by honey bee shortages. A $1.4 million grant from the USDA NIFA Specialty Crops Research Initiative (SCRI) program will look at the impact on fruit pollination and the development of alternative pollinators to supplement honey bees.Orchard in spring (iStockphoto.com)

According to David Biddinger, tree fruit entomologist at Penn State’s Fruit Research and Extension Center and a project co-director, the importance of native bees has probably been underestimated. “In a recent study, almost 50 species of native bees were shown to be key crop pollinators of several vegetable crops and were fully able to pollinate some of these crops without the aid of honey bees on the majority of the farms evaluated.” A two-year survey of 12 Pennsylvania apple orchards found more than 120 species of bees. Despite declines in honey bee numbers since 1997, wild bee numbers increased an average of three- to fivefold.

The new project will establish surveys and a monitoring program to identify the importance of wild pollinators to agricultural pollination, assess bee species collected during survey work to determine if any pathogen or other invasive species has infected the population, enhance new pollinator habitat, and promote pollinator awareness through education efforts.

For information, visit Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research at ento.psu.edu/pollinators.

Photo: iStockphoto.com