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Research Project: Ecological Assessment and Mitigation Strategies to Reduce the Risks of Bees to Stressors in Southern Crop Ecosystems

Location: Pollinator Health in Southern Crop Ecosystems Research

2021 Annual Report

1. Determine pesticide risks to honey bees, both by laboratory assays and field studies in southern cropping systems, including the mode of action of insecticides on bee pollinators and interactions with other pesticides. 2. Develop IPM systems to mitigate the effects of pesticides on bees in these systems. 3. Determine the role of non-crop vegetation in the health of bees in these systems, with a focus on enhancing bee forage habitat. 4. Conduct studies on native bee diversity and biology in southern cropping systems to improve the use of local bee species for pollination of regional crops such as squash and berries. 5. Conduct studies on aerial and ground application of pesticides, examining drift patterns and design equipment and spray adjuvants/dispensers that uses precision application to minimize off-target application onto adjacent non-cropping areas associated with bee habitat.

This new Research Unit will focus on how to improve both native and honey bee health as well as improving natural habitat and minimizing risk to stressors including pesticides and pests in a way that is beneficial to both beekeepers and farmers. The southern United States has traditionally been an area of high row crop agriculture with often high pest pressure than routinely needs synthetic pesticides to keep populations below economic injury levels. These areas are only now seeing the influx of commercial beekeepers that traditionally have been located in other areas of the U.S. Therefore, there is a need to determine ways to increase the health of both managed honey bees as well as native bees that are often needed for pollination services for farmers as well as producing honey for the commercial beekeeper. In addition, there is a lack of knowledge in the overall ecology of non-crop forage (i.e. weeds and native vegetation) to provide suitable habitat for bees as well as determining the risk of certain pesticides on bee health. Finding answers on which strategies increase bee health while being feasible and economical both to the farmer and commercial beekeeper is of the highest priority. Reducing pollinator losses by improving bee health is essential for consistently providing adequate bee populations for crop pollination and ensuring the productivity of U.S. crops that require bee pollination. Identification of particularly damaging chemical pesticides as well as improved application strategies that minimize impact on non-target organisms, such as bees, will inform exposure risks that may be mitigated. Conserving the diversity of non-Apis bees, including bumble bees, alfalfa leafcutter bees, and blue orchard bees, is essential for pollinating certain agricultural crops in addition to hundreds of species of native plants that can be forage for managed honey bees. Progress in NP305 will be accelerated by the information provided by this project. All information generated will be made available through various research publications outlets including outreach using University extension personnel. In addition, the new Unit will collaborate extensively with external partners including landgrant Universities and other federal agencies through outgoing NACAs and interagency agreements.

Progress Report
Further data analysis indicated that honey bee health (natural mortality) gradually deteriorate over bee season, which was highly correlated with deformed wing virus (DWV) titers. The population density of Varroa mite fluctuated irregularly and correlation with bee health levels was not detected, although early season miticide treatment generally reduced honey bee susceptibility to insecticides. Examinations of six immunity- and two physiology-related genes showed suppressions of expressions of most of the genes tested. Collections of native bees from a variety of habitats across the southeastern United States are being collected. Multiple species of native bees have been collected and are preserved. The beenome project aims to sequence the genomes of 100 native bees in collaboration with university colleagues from the University of Illinois and other USDA ARS researchers. Three of the bee species collected from Mississippi have completed both HiFi and HiC sequencing, and other locally collected species are in the pipeline. As of the summer of 2021, the Pollinators Health in Southern Crop Ecosystems Research Unit, Southern Pollinator Health Center has successfully hired Research Agricultural Engineer, Research Chemist and Research Ecologist, Program Support Assistant and Office Automation Assistant. The search for RL position is underway. The unit is renovating two buildings (#8 A and 8B) containing offices and laboratories on the Stoneville agricultural campus to house Research Leader, PSA, OAA, MSU scientist and Research Entomologist and other personnel, including graduate students, technicians, and post-doctorate employees. The Building#1, second floor is accommodating Research Toxicologist, Research Ecologist, Research Chemist and Research Agricultural Engineer, Support Scientist and Postdoctoral fellow. This new unit/Center will allow both ARS, University partners, and other Federal Agencies (i.e., EPA and NRCS) to address fundamental and applied research questions with the most current technology available. Already, cooperative research agreements that will complement ARS mission on pollinator health are in place with Mississippi State University, Auburn University, University of Arkansas, University of Tennessee, Alcorn State University, Fort Valley State University, University of Illinois, and University of Southern Mississippi. In addition, Mississippi State University is actively recruiting a full-time research professor to be located at the new Center, and ARS hopes to have a new Research Leader hired by fall. ARS anticipates similar hires will be conducted by Auburn University this summer. By fall of 2021, it is anticipated that the Center will have 6-8 PhD scientists consisting of entomologists, ecologists, chemists, and agricultural engineers, fully equipped and ready to address these key issues surrounding pollinator health.