Study takes first good look at largely unknown native pollinators

Jun 21, 2010 by Mickie Anderson

(PhysOrg.com) -- Ask a regular Joe on the street what he knows about bees, and he'll no doubt believe you to be talking about the kind brought to the U.S. long ago from Europe for honey-making purposes.

Ask University of Florida postdoctoral researcher Akers Pence, and he’ll tell you all about different kinds of - those native to North America — how they’ve rarely been studied, how critical they are but how little is known about them.

To that end, Pence is directing the Institute of Food and ’ portion of a five-year study of . Specifically, the study will try to determine the most effective ways to attract the native pollinators, keep them around, and encourage them to pollinate Florida’s crops.

The study, part of a larger effort called Operation Pollinator, has been supported with a $160,000 grant for its first year by Syngenta and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and includes research partners at Michigan State University and the University of California, Davis. The effort is aimed at evaluating native pollinators, especially bees, as pollinators of agricultural crops.

Today marks the start of National Pollinator Week, which runs through June 27. Events are being held across the country to draw attention to their value and their plight.

Efforts to study the native pollinators are especially timely because honey bees, long considered the “heavy lifters” among pollinators in modern agriculture, have been declining at an alarming rate, Pence said.

Researchers all over the country have been working to find the causes behind , which has caused widespread bee die-offs since late 2006.

UF has several graduate students working on native pollinator studies, as well, said IFAS specialist Jamie Ellis.

Among them: Anthony Vaudo is studying native conservation in South Africa; Jason Graham is studying native pollinator habitat, nesting materials, how to encourage native bees to nest and educate Floridians about native pollinator conservation, and Katie Buckley is studying native bees that use specific Florida wildflowers. Fulbright scholar Pablo Herrera is studying native pollinators’ effectiveness with blueberries and watermelons and undergraduate honors student Julian Aris is researching wasps attracted to specific wildflower plots.

In research fields at IFAS’ Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra just outside Gainesville, Pence has four sites, each with experimental plots filled with combinations of native perennial and annual wildflowers, and is monitoring them to determine which works best to attract native bees and other pollinators.

Once that is known, agricultural producers and even backyard gardeners could plant those types of flower mixes to encourage the native bees to visit and linger.

On one recent morning, Pence and UF entomology junior Jonnie Dietz used butterfly nets and a stopwatch to go through each plot systematically — 10 minutes of observation, and another 10 minutes capturing pollinators for documentation back at the lab.

Researchers at Michigan State and UC Davis have similar field experiments under way, Pence said.

Researchers hope to find easy and inexpensive ways for agricultural producers to help native pollinators and boost farm yields. It’s imperative that they do: Some of the U.S. crops that are 90 percent or more dependent on pollination include almonds, apples, citrus, sweet cherries, melons, squash, cucumbers and blueberries. And 35 percent of the world’s food production depends on pollination.

“That’s what this native work is all about,” Pence said. “There are about 4,000 bee species in North America, 316 of them in Florida - and we can only recognize maybe two or three of them in flight. So getting a chance to study them, up close, is great.”

Explore further: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bee research shows benefits of native plants, wild bees

Jan 14, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- As scientists struggle to come to grips with Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious disease threatening to wipe out domesticated honey bees in the United States, they have begun to cast a ...

Bee species outnumber mammals and birds combined

Jun 11, 2008

Scientists have discovered that there are more bee species than previously thought. In the first global accounting of bee species in over a hundred years, John S. Ascher, a research scientist in the Division of Invertebrate ...

Honeybees are on the rise but demand grows faster

May 07, 2009

The notion that a decline in pollinators may threaten the human food supply - producing a situation that has been referred to as a "pollination crisis" - can be considered a myth, at least where honey bees ...

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.