Integrated Management Practices For Improved Pollinator Health

Honey bee pollinating a strawberry flower

Incorporating pollinator health into integrated pest management tactics is a high priority issue to reach the goal of developing sustainable IPM strategies. Honey bee and native bee populations have experienced steep declines in recent years, partially due to agricultural intensification. Specifically, three aspects of agricultural management practices seem to be associated with pollinator decline: (1) increasing pesticide use, (2) high stocking density of managed honey bee hives, (3) and loss of natural habitat leading to simplified landscapes. In collaboration with Hannah Burrack (NC State), we are using a holistic measure of health to quantitative assess the impact of agricultural intensification on pollinators in the strawberry system. We are aiming to (1) identify key management factors that compromise pollinator health, (2) provide evidence-based recommendations for management practices that improve environmental conditions for pollinators, and (3) contribute essential resources for growers to incorporate pollinators into IPM practices. Funded by USDA            

Tracking Feral Bee Health

Feral bee colony in a tree

Beekeepers are facing serious challenges that threaten their economic viability. One of the major problems honey bees are dealing with is the large cocktail of parasites and pathogens that attack them. Currently, most managed honey bee colonies cannot survive the winter without disease treatment, and even with intensive management regime, beekeepers nationwide are losing on average 40% of their colonies, with Pennsylvania being among the worst. On the contrary, some feral (unmanaged) bee populations have been reported as stable through time despite the lack of beekeeper assistance, suggesting that these colonies may have adapted to be resilient to these multiple disease stressors. This year we are starting a project that aims to compare the levels of immune gene expression and loads of viral pathogens to test whether feral honey bees have stronger immune systems than managed honey bees. By identifying feral colonies with stronger immune systems, we are hoping to identify genetic stocks of locally adapted bees that could be used for breeding programs. If you are aware of an unmanaged or feral honey bee colony, please share with us information regarding its location via our Tracking Feral Bee Health FORM (FORM is available below) or via email at the López-Uribe Lab ( Funded by USDA.

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Effect of Organic Beekeeping Practices on Honey Bee Health

Honey bees building comb in a foundationless frame

Honey bees are the most important managed pollinator for crop production, making the issue of the high percentage of annual colony losses a concern for food security. Various practices are currently used to manage honey bee colonies, which include conventional, organic, and chemical-free systems. There is a critical need to develop scientific and economic data that support organic beekeeping management practices with the goals to (1) improve honey bee health and (2) create a profitable economic opportunity for beekeepers. We are conducting a stakeholder-driven, integrated systems-based project to rigorously test the effect of organic and chemical-free honey bee management systems on honey bee health by comparing the two systems to the control conventional management system. Our long-term goal is to generate evidence-based best management practices for a sustainable organic beekeeping system that will improve honey bee colony health, reduce environmental impacts, and increase economic returns to beekeepers. Funded by USDA.

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Bee Microbiomes

Bee bread inside a honey bee colony.

Pollen and nectar exposed to pesticides can change the microbiota associated with honey bee colonies. As part of the COMB (Conventional and Organic Management of Bees) project, we are also investigating another important aspect of colony health: how microbial communities change in managed honey bee colonies treated with different in-hive chemicals. Beneficial bacteria and fungi help with the production of bee bread by fermentation of the pollen stored in cells. Symbiotic microbes help metabolize some compounds in the digestive tract of bees.  Increasing evidence suggests that changes in the honey bee microbiome can be directly linked to colony health. Funded by USDA.

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