Native Bees Pick Up Pollination Slack (Combating Colony Collapse)

HONEY BEE COLONY COLLAPSE Disorder (CCD) is a murky headline catch phrase, a scientific-sounding term that is almost a euphemism, to describe a population decline. In other words, there are fewer honey bees than there used to be, which is bad for agricultural crops dependent upon these domesticated insects for pollination.

Why a population decline is called a “disorder” is a bit beyond me, though it sounds almost clinical or medical. Perhaps that is the point; and calling it a disorder makes it a more respectable object of study and aids in obtaining funding and public support for research and finding a remedy. The declining human populations in Russia, Italy, Germany, Japan and other developed countries are not called a disorder; which perhaps implies an underlying value judgment. Might be nice to discover a Bed Bug Colony Collapse Disorder (BBCCD) to give cause for celebration. Though the acronym BBCCD in the Google search engine would confusingly yield CDs from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

Wikipedia makes it sounds like honey bees are being kidnapped: “Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear. While such disappearances have occurred throughout the history of apiculture, the term colony collapse disorder was first applied to a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of Western honey bee colonies in North America in late 2006…” If such occurrences have been happening throughout history, then the “disorder” sounds more like normality. In any case, times are tougher for those relying upon domesticated honey bees for crop pollination.

The interesting flip side of honey bee colony collapse disorder is the almost metaphorical return of the natives: Really a rediscovery and new appreciation of overlooked native pollinators like North American squash bees, digger bees, miner bees, sweat bees, bumble bees, and syrphid flies.

Whether you call it a disorder or a population decline: Nature abhors a vacuum or an empty ecological niche, like an absence or paucity of pollinating honey bees in a flowering agricultural ecosystem. Niches tend to get filled in nature, though the process may take years. With fewer honey bees (Apis mellifera is an introduced species in the Americas) in the fields, native bees hitherto ignored or overlooked are taking over the pollination chores on certain crops, according to research presented at Entomological Society of America (ESA) meetings.

“Nearly 4,000 species of native bees are found in North America,” said the University of Kentucky’s Amanda Skidmore. Integrated Pollination Management (IPM) or Integrated Crop Pollination, jargon phrases that sometimes popup at meetings, refers to managing crop ecosystems as habitats for native pollinators.

“In order to best utilize bees as pollination service providers, agro-ecosystems must be managed to attract and sustain them based on their natural history biological requirements,” Skidmore told the ESA. These habitat requirements include “energy (nectar), larval food proteins (pollen), and protected nesting sites (i.e. untilled earth, nesting boxes, dead plant matter).”

Native long-horned bees (Melissodes bimaculata) take up some of the slack from depleted honey bee populations in Kentucky by pollinating squash, melon and vegetable crops. Sweet alyssum (white-flowered variety), a flower interplanted in agricultural crops to promote biological control of pests by natural enemies, was heavily favored by the native pollinators; along with bee balm (Monarda didyma) and wood sage (Teucrium canadense). The idea is to plant a succession of flowering resources, including native wildflowers, shrubs and trees, to sustain native pollinators from very early season to late season. Research on habitat plantings is on-going.

Native North American sweat bees (Halictidae) and digger or mining bees (Andrenidae) are abundant pollinators of Michigan’s important blueberry crop in some locales, Michigan State University researcher Rufus Isaacs told the ESA. Nearby meadows “grow” sweat bee populations that move into blueberries to provide pollination services. Well-drained soils mean more nesting habitat for digger or mining bees that also pollinate blueberries. Several dozen wild native annual and perennial plants with varied bloom periods are being test-grown near Michigan blueberries to determine which best boost native bee populations and reduce the need for honey bee pollination.

Similar strategies for adding habitat for native pollinators are also being researched in crops as diverse as apples, cherries, squash and watermelons in regions as far-flung as Florida and California.

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3 Responses to Native Bees Pick Up Pollination Slack (Combating Colony Collapse)

  1. […] To Coast AM: Project Camelot / Unexplained Booms, Bee Collapse, & Ancient Structures 4-26-2012Native Bees Pick Up Pollination Slack (Combating Colony Collapse) …]

    Joelg replies: The above was even worse-looking, before I deleted all the font and display code jargon. But I like unraveling computer “Gobbledygook or gobbledegook (sometimes gobbledegoo)”. Defined by Wiki: “…any text containing jargon or especially convoluted English that results in it being excessively hard to understand or even incomprehensible. “Bureaucratese” is one form of gobbledygook. There are two distinct and opposite cases. One is that incomprehensible material is actual gibberish. In the other some abstruse material is either ineptly presented or is subjectively perceived to be gibberish due to a lack of preparation…”

    Insect swarms inspire robotics research, and insect eyes (facetted, with numerous anatomically identical units) inspire everything from comic book art to anti-reflective coatings used to reduce glare on cell phone and computer screens. Moth eyes are designed to be non-reflective at night, so the nocturnal moths do not get eaten as they fly at night. Check Moth-Eye Reflections for more on moth-eye design inspiration for non-glare computer/phone screens, better solar cells, etc.

    Clicking on “Learn” leads to some interesting stories, like honey bee eyes and brains as inspiration for industry, etc.

    An interesting honey bee vision/cognition story (link below)

    http://www.innovationtoronto.com/2012/05/bee-research-breakthrough-might-lead-to-artificial-vision/

    “The Australian and French research shows that honeybees use multiple rules to solve complex visual problems.

    Study author Dr Adrian Dyer, from RMIT University, said the findings held important implications for our understanding of how cognitive capacities for viewing complex images evolved in brains…”

  2. […] Bugs Extermination NYCHow to Get Rid of Gnats naturallyNative Bees Pick Up Pollination Slack (Combating Colony Collapse) #header { background: […]

    Joelg replies: An interesting collection of bed bug articles and commercial links, with emphasis on New York City.

  3. […] and even staying the same temperature while the numbers fluctuate around the mean or average). The ambiguous language says both nothing and everything simultaneously, though underlying CCD is a quest for as yet […]

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