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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Pollinating Insect-biology, Management, Systematics Research

Project Number: 5428-21000-013-00-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Oct 1, 2008
End Date: Sep 30, 2013

The overall goal of this project is to ensure the productivity and profitability of insect-pollinated crops by improving the diversity and availability of pollinators for U.S. agriculture. In general terms, we wish to create a toolbox of pollinators. To accomplish this, we seek to understand the diversity and abundance of wild bees in the U.S., and to develop methods for managing a selection of bees as pollinators, including developing effective methods for mass production, ultilization and disease control. To attain our objectives, we plan to focus on specific ecological and agricultural systems. Objective 1: Improve maintenance of wild lands and native bees by (a) enhancing knowledge of native bee pollination, systematics and biodiversity (especially for megachilidae and bombus), (b) developing identification keys that are friendly to non-experts monitoring native bees, and (c) restoring wild lands by identifying the native pollinator guilds necessary for commercial seed farming of native forbs. • Subobjective 1.1. Expand the taxonomy and systematics of native bees, especially Megachilidae, and develop user-friendly identification keys. • Subobjective 1.2. Document the diversity of native bees in the U.S. • Subobjective 1.3. Develop pollination systems for commercial production of native plant seed needed to restore plant communities on public lands in the Intermountain West. Objective 2: Deliver improved pollination management systems for non-apis bees, particularly the Alfalfa Leafcutting Bee (ALCB) and the alkali bee for alfalfa seed production, bumble bees for greenhouse and field crops, and the Blue Orchard Bee (BOB) for orchard crops. • Subobjective 2.1. Improve sustainability of commercial populations of alfalfa leafcutting bees (ALCB) used for alfalfa seed production. • Subobjective 2.2. Improve methods for maintaining alkali bees for alfalfa seed production. • Subobjective 2.3. Improve management methods of Osmia bees for crop pollination, focusing on managing blue orchard bees to pollinate almonds and Osmia aglaia for bramble fruits • Subobjective 2.4. Develop methods to increase retention of managed solitary bees, particularly the blue orchard bee and alfalfa leafcutting bee. • Subobjective 2.5. Develop management methods for bumble bees native to the U.S. Objective 3: Develop effective and grower-friendly systems for managing diseases in non-apis bees, particularly chalkbrood in the ALCB and BOB. • Subobjective 3.1. Determine chalkbrood epidemiology and diversity (through molecular systematics), and elucidate the genetics of bee immune responses and pathogen resistance. • Subobjective 3.2. Discover effective fungicides and other suppression tools,develop application methods for controlling chalkbrood in the ALCB, and use this as a model for chalkbrood control in BOB. • Subobjective 3.3. Discover the key pathogens and parasites that inhibit mass production of bumble bee colonies.

Bees are vital to agriculture. The commercial production of more than 90 crops are accomplished through bee pollination. The honey bee is the best known crop pollinator, but recently, honey beekeepers have been facing a bee health crises, and significant scientific time and effort has been put into identifying the cause. The issue can be viewed as a more general problem, one of a declining availability of pollinators for agriculture. As such, another approach to avoiding the crises can be taken, and that is to evaluate the diversity and use of many species of bees. Our plan addresses three main objectives (1) improve native bee diversity and abundance, and knowledge of their biology, (2) deliver improved pollinator management systems, and (3) develop effective disease management systems for non-Apis bees. Our results will develop an understanding of the causes behind pollinator declines, improve pollinator availability, improve crop quality and production for pollinated crops, and enhance the development of new cropping methods (such as covered row crops). Our overriding goal is to provide agriculture with a tool box of pollinators, however, all bees have their own diseases and parasites and are susceptible to environmental use of pesticides and loss of habitat. Research is needed to identify and control the negative impacts of these factors. In addition, many species of wild bees provide free pollination services for agricultural crops and maintain plant reproduction in our rangelands and other natural and wild areas, and thus it is important to evaluate and protect their populations.

Last Modified: 2/23/2016
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