Happy National Pollinator Week

June 21, 2011 under CANR News

Debbie Delaney looked like she was feeling the heat on a recent 95-degree day at the University of Delaware apiary, despite the shade of black walnut and tulip poplar trees. It was hard to tell how the 22 hives of honeybees – some two million bees in all – were handling the steamy weather.

But Delaney, an assistant professor of entomology and wildlife ecology in the College of Agricultural and Natural Resources, had no worries. “Bees are much better at thermoregulation than humans are,” says Delaney. “Honeybees maintain strict temperature control. The colony always stays between 89 and 92 degrees, ideal for a honeybee, and the humidity never varies more than 5 percent. Worker bees flap their wings to cool the air and some periodically leave the hive to reduce the effects of body heat.”

Delaney has been researching bees for years but continues to be amazed at their abilities, including staying comfortable in the heat while we wilt. She’d like to see bees get a bit more respect — if not the all-out enthusiasm she displays.

She’ll have an opportunity to spread the word about bees this week, which marks National Pollinator Week. The event recognizes not only bees but all pollinators – birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. One in every three bites of food humans consume has been made possible by one of these pollinators.

Pollinator Partnership, a nonprofit organization that sponsors the week, calls bees the primary pollinator of most plants. Delaney agrees, with a slight qualification.

“Bees are definitely the most important pollinator in our state in terms of the numbers and the importance of the crops they pollinate,” she says. “But bats also are important in a different way. Bat-pollinated flowers generally open at night and have distinct floral tube sizes and shapes that can accommodate bats.  So bats are very important pollinators for a certain subset of plants.”

Even while giving bats their due, Delaney rattles off the Delaware crops that bees do pollinate: apples, asparagus, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cantaloupe, cucumber, eggplant, honeydew melon, nectarines, peaches, pears, peppers, pumpkins, okra, onion, squash, strawberries, tomatoes and watermelon. She’s quite sure she has missed a few. After all, bees pollinate more than 90 crops in North America.

Non-native honeybees are responsible for some of this pollination. But Delaware’s native bees deserve credit, too.

There are at least 200 native bees in the state, according to the state Department of Agriculture, which recently completed a five-year study of native bees. “Recent research has shown that native bees can play a major role in pollinating agricultural crops,” notes Delaney. “Native bees often will visit flowers in wet or cold weather when honeybees don’t want to come out of their hives. And farmers who use managed honeybees will see increased yields when native bees interact with the crops.”

Wild honeybees – descendants of honeybees introduced by European colonists – also play a role in agricultural pollination. Research on these feral bees may even help combat colony collapse disorder, a poorly understood syndrome that can wipe out entire hives of managed honeybees.

The Feral Bee Project, sponsored by North Carolina State University, asks beekeepers and “citizen scientists” to log the location of wild honeybee hives at the Save the Hives website.

“Colony collapse disorder in domestic honeybees continues to be a major concern,” says Delaney. “We still don’t know the cause or causes of this syndrome. But the Feral Bee Project may give us a better understanding of the role that natural resistance plays in fighting disease or environmental stress, as well as a better understanding of genetic components that contribute to ‘survivor stock.’”

Learn more

To find out more about pollinators and National Pollinator Week, go to the Pollinator Partnership website.

The Brandywine Zoo will be hosting “Pollinator Power” on June 25, a family friendly event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed online on UDaily by clicking here.

 

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Twilight Tour with Bees

August 23, 2010 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

The Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA) and UD Cooperative Extension are presenting a Twilight Tour with Bees from 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM on Monday, August 30, 2010, at Lister Acres, 5417 Milford-Harrington Highway, Harrington, Delaware.

DDA and UD staff will have tour stops demonstrating the importance of healthy, abundant bee populations to Delaware’s fruit and vegetable crops, the diversity of native bees found in the state, and farm management to enhance pollinator conservation.

The speakers from DDA include Entomologist Heather Harmon Disque, State Apiarist Bob Mitchell from DDA. Assistant Professor Dr. Debbie Delaney, Extension Entomologist Joanne Whalen, and Vegetable Specialist Gordon Johnson are among the speakers from UD. Funding for the event is provided by a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant.

The nearly 4,000 species of bees found in the United States are the premier pollinators of fruit and vegetable crops, as well as a wide variety of native plants. Protecting and conserving bees is vital to our food supply and our quality of life.

The Twilight Tour with Bees is the culminating event in the four-year long SARE grant funded pollinator initiative (Farming for Native Bees) undertaken by DDA and UD. From 2006-2010, several thousand native bees were collected from vegetable farms as well as state parks and lands. These bees represent more than 100 species. Of these, 18 were state records, namely bees that had not been collected in the state before. Assessments of bee population diversity, and pollinator conservation farming practices were conducted on 15 farms. The project also produced two publications, “Delaware Native Plants for Native Bees” and “Farm Management for Native Bees”, funded by NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service). The host of the Twilight Tour, Chuck Hurd, was chosen as the 2008 National Pollinator Conservationist of the Year by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign. For information on attending the event, contact DDA at 302-698-4577.

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