Bee pollination is necessary for cucurbit plants to successfully produce a crop. As concern about the health of honey bee colonies has escalated, resources have been devoted to ascertaining which other bee species pollinate flowers. Of particular concern are plants used as food crops. My work focuses on melons and squash, which are frequently major crops for diversified vegetable producers. We have successfully identified bee species collected in eight Iowa melon and squash fields during the summers of 2010 and 2011. We have also summarized the landscape surrounding each farm. This information will allow growers to alter the farm landscape to provide habitat and promote the native and wild bee species we have found in these crop fields. A teaching case study is in the process of being submitted and a larger manuscript is being produced with co-investigators from Penn State University and the University of Kentucky for submission to a peer-reviewed journal (TBD) later this year.
Objective 1: Assess wild bee species abundance and diversity in Iowa cucurbit fields
I collected bee species from eight small-scale, diversified cucurbit farms during Summer 2011. The bees have been identified and catalogued.
Objective 2: Analyze the landscape diversity surrounding cucurbit fields surveyed
The landscape within a 1.5-km radius of surveyed fields has been indexed using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and data from the National Agriculture Imagery Program (USGS) and the Cropland Data Layer (USDA).
Objective 3: Statistically analyze relationships between wild bee species abundance/diversity and landscape
Statistical analysis is in progress.
Objective 4: Make research results and conclusions available to growers
I have presented my work at the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers conference in January 2012. I also created and displayed a poster on my case study at the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association meeting in Lexington, KY, in August 2011. I will be submitting my teaching case study to HortTechnology for peer-reviewed publication this month. The ecological portion of my research will be part of a larger paper, which will be submitted for peer-reviewed publication in concert with colleagues from Penn State University and the University of Kentucky (summer submission). Cooperators will receive a list of bee species collected on the respective farms, in addition to abundance statistics.
Educational & Outreach Activities
This research is the beginning of the first clear picture of wild pollinator communities of cucurbit crops in the North Central Region. Wild pollinator presence and abundance is not well known in Iowa, in general, and in cucurbit crops, in particular. Growers now have an initial assessment of the species present within these crops and can begin to make informed decisions based on the presence or absence of these species (for example, honey bee hive rental and habitat provisioning).
The case study provides an opportunity for community college and university students to understand the value of wild pollinators and what environment is needed to support these diverse species. It also allows students to investigate and deliberate the decisions growers must make and establish priorities, which often guide grower decisions.