Native Bee habitat Rehabilitation; Encouraging greater adoption of sustainable pollination practices

Final Report for ONE09-107

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2009: $9,894.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Alexandru Surcica
Penn State Cooperative Extension
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Project Information

Summary:

A third of the human diet relies directly or indirectly on biotic pollination. Pollinators contribute 9.5% to the global agricultural output, or about $153 billion. In the U.S., the value of pollination services has been estimated at $18.9 billion for honeybees and $3 billion for native bees. Without bees, the flowers of bee-pollinated crops will abort or will set small, misshaped, flavorless and quickly perishable fruit. In addition, many wind pollinated crops have better yields when bees augment the pollination process. Currently, the honeybee population is being decimated by a combination of pests, pathogens, and stresses as result of poor management and overexploitation. However, wild bees can successfully pollinate commercial crops by themselves if some farm land is managed as bee habitat, with an abundance of floral and nesting resources. Wild bees not only provide free pollination but are active in inclement weather and are more effective in vectoring pollen between flowers than honeybees.

In this project, over a three-year period, we proposed to determine the costs and returns per square foot for native bee habitat rehabilitation for farms situated in the northeastern United States. In 2009, 23 different species of bee-rewarding plants were selected for establishing two 25’ X 100’ native bee habitats on two farms. Monitoring of the diversity and abundance of the bee population was done every two weeks with pan traps adjacent to the bee habitats, as well as 300 yards away from them towards the center of the agricultural field. In addition, monitoring of the bee population was done on one other farm that did not register an improvement of floral provisioning. By performing the same type of monitoring in the subsequent two years, we will ascertain if and how much a given floral provisioning can influence bee populations in agricultural environments. This data, corroborated with the records regarding the time and materials necessary for establishing and maintaining the bee habitats, will allow farmers to know what the best conservation practices are, and what are the investments and the returns in doing so. In 2009, both farms have organized open-farm-days where more than160 farmers had the opportunity to see the project and get information on the best native bee habitat conservation practices.

The monitoring in 2009 did not indicate a significant difference in the bee population density and diversity between the sites that had floral provisioning and the sites that did not have it. This was expected, as the the floral provisioning had been recently installed and the plant specimens were not fully matured.

Introduction:

A large number of organizations throughout North America are working on conserving and encouraging pollinators, with great emphasis on honeybees. Valuable research is being done on bee biology, habitat restoration, pollinator plants, plant pollinator interactions, bee diversity, bee pests and diseases, synergistic and sublethal pesticide effects on bees, etc. However, despite the significance of the subject matter and the information available, the Northeast and Mid Atlantic regions have no programs investigating the costs and returns of rehabilitating native bee habitat on organic farms. Moreover, the farmers in these regions need to have demonstration farms that will be how-to guides for providing forage and nesting resources for the native bee population. These types of projects can incorporate all the available data and give a full perspective to the farmer on the work volume and investment level for accomplishing pollination sustainability.

This proposal represents the second phase in a three year project and it deals with managing and monitoring the research plots. Through the “Native Bee Habitat Rehabilitation” project, we will provide the growers of the northeastern U.S. with the applied knowledge of how to rehabilitate the native pollinator habitat. The desired outcome of this research project is to assess the investment needed for having a strong and diverse population of native bees able to fully pollinate the predominant crops. For better understanding the environmental impact of our project, the bee population progress will be monitored bi-weekly. For that, we will use aerial netting and pan trapping methods. Furthermore, the native bee census will be incorporated into a regional bee database, which will shed more light on the current nation-wide native pollinator crises.

Project Objectives:

The project has the following performance targets:

Determine the costs per square foot for establishing native bee habitats. These habitats will be comprised of herbaceous perennials started from four-inch-deep plugs that were selected for a year-round overlapping bloom;

Ascertain if and how much the bee population diversity and abundance is affected by the newly established habitats on each of the two farms involved in the research project;

Educate the farmers on the importance of having bee-rewarding habitats in order to have sustainable and free pollination services;

Develop educational materials and programs that will provide farmers throughout PA with information regarding the costs and returns per square foot of native bee habitat rehabilitation.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Steve Bogash

Research

Materials and methods:

In 2009, we installed bee habitat comprised of herbaceous perennial broadleaf plant species on two farms, Dickinson College Farm and Penn State Southeast Agriculture Research and Extension Center. Although the later site was not specified in the 2009 NESARE contract, this was possible due to some significant educational discounts on plant materials and some in-house funds. In 2010, we are interested in maintaining the research plots and continuing to monitor the general trend in the diversity and abundance of the bee populations. Such work will encourage growers to more confidently adopt these conservation practices in order to secure and increase their native bee population. This will translate into sustainable pollination and more qualitative and quantitative yields, which will allow the farmers to increase their profits.

To ascertain the costs per square foot of bee habitat rehabilitation, we will be factoring in the time and funds invested in the initial site survey, planting design and installation, and yearly maintenance. The returns will be determined by the rate of which the native bees are participating in the crop pollination process before and after the habitat has reached its full potential. For this we will trap and identify all the bees, native or non native, present on a randomly selected number of crop flowers, in a given time period. Without taking into consideration the value of the environmental services, we will consider that the pollinator value is directly proportional with the value of the crop pollinated. Therefore, the returns’ estimated minimum value will be equal with the value of crop yields the native bees actively pollinated.

Research results and discussion:

In 2009, we completed the first phase of the project, which was comprised of plant material selection, purchasing, and installation, habitat maintenance, and bee monitoring efforts. Two 25’ X100’ linear bee habitats were installed on two sites, Dickinson College Organic Farm—Boiling Springs, PA, and Penn State Southeast Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SEAREC)—Manheim, PA. Although not specified in the 2009 NESARE contract, the establishment of a second plot was possible due to some in-house discretionary funds and a generous educational discount (23%) offered by our plant supplier, North Creek Nurseries—Landenberg, PA. Dictated by plant material availability, the installation of bee habitats was done in stages, starting in May and finishing at the end of June. On average, per site, we used 2 hours of mechanized labor and 40 hours of manual labor for the bed preparation and plant installation. Throughout the first growing season, there was an additional 8 hours per month needed for field maintenance. Due to a rainy early summer, we had very few plugs to replace, and all plants developed according to expectations.

Plant selection and installation
Plant material was selected according to their blooming time and the availability of our suppliers. Some plant species were substituted, since the initial proposed plant species were no longer available in our suppliers’ stock. The following are the 23 plant species used in our research plots: Allium cernuum, Anemone canadensis, Asclepias incarnate, Aster laevis (old nomenclature), Aster nova angliae, Coreopsis tripteris, Coreopsis verticillata, Eupatorium perfoliatum, Helenium autumnale, Helianthus X Lemon Queen, Lobelia siphilitica, Monarda fistulosa, Oenothera fruticosa, Penstemon digitalis, Phlox pilosa, Ratibita pinnata, Rudbeckia fulgida, Senecio aureus, Silphium connatum, Sisyrincium angustifolium, Thermopsis caroliniana, Tradescantia o. Mrs. Loewer, Veronicastrum virginicum. For more information on the plant species’ common names, growth habits, and moisture and light requirements, please find the plant material list attached in this report. All selected plants were installed as 4-inch deep plugs. This characteristic allowed for more consistent and uniform development.

Site maintenance
Heavy rain events, corroborated with the research plot being located on a sloped site, caused the mulch and some soil from the bee habitat plot installed at Dickinson College farm in Boiling Springs, PA to be washed away. As a result, the site registered increased weed pressure, resulting in extra 40 hours of labor in 2009. However, aside from this, we had a better than expected plant establishment and growth on both sites. Although some blooming was noted in the first growing season, as expected, it was not as consistent as it is with plants that are fully established. Both bee habitats served as demonstration fields at open-farm days for farmers, as well as other numerous educational events for various green industry personnel.

Bee monitoring efforts
Due to the positive rapport between a low variance associated with a good capacity to collect diverse bee species, for this project we chose bee pan traps to use as our bee monitoring method. The bee pan trap method consisted of placing brightly colored, white, yellow, and blue plastic cereal bowls on the ground from 7:00 am till 5:00 pm every two weeks. We filled the bowls with water and used a drop of dishwashing detergent in order to break the water surface tension.
Starting in May and finishing at the beginning of October, we monitored the bee population on both farms. On each farm, this was done in two places, on the edge of the habitat and about 300 yards away from the newly established bee habitat, towards the center of the farm. Over the three years of the research project, this bee monitoring protocol will allow us to identify the effects the floral provisioning has on the population of non-managed (aka wild, native) bees.
Once trapped, the bees were collected in glass vials with 70% alcohol and stored for later identification. Sam Droege, biologist at USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, did the identification of all bee specimens collected.

Bee monitoring data interpretation
As seen in the attached document, 181 bee specimens were collected at both sites. Based on this set of data, the bee population did not vary too much between the two monitored transects of each of the two sites. Both the diversity and density seemed to be relatively uniform. As the floral provisioning plots mature, it is expected that the transects with floral provisioning will attract a more diverse and populous number of bees compared to the transect that has no floral provisioning.

The monitoring in 2009 did not indicate a significant difference in the bee population density and diversity between the sites that had floral provisioning and the sites that did not have it. This was expected, as the the floral provisioning had been recently installed and the plant specimens were not fully matured.

Research conclusions:

Additionally, each farm organized various events that attracted the public and numerous green-industry professionals and provided them with educational materials about pollinator conservation and bee-rewarding plant material. For example, SEAREC has an annual event called Summer Garden Experience that attracts about 300 visitors. Furthermore, the project coordinator provided lectures on pollinator conservation practices for more than 1,000 attendees at numerous farmer meetings throughout Pennsylvania, including the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention, Keystone Crops and Soils Conference, New Holland Vegetable Day, Shippensburg Growers Meeting, Backyard Fruit Growers, and GardenWise

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

n/a

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The following represent the costs incurred for establishing one 100 ft x 25 ft floral provisioning plot:
1) Mechanized labor for tilling and leveling the ground 2 hours @ $25 per hour $50
2) Manual labor for installing the deep plugs 40 hours @ $10 per hour $400
3) Manual labor for maintaining in the growing season 40 hours @ $10 per hour $400
4) 4-inch deep plug perennials $.80 each x 50 pcs x 23 $920
Total: $2,220
The cost of the 4-inch deep plug perennials is the single largest expense. For minimizing their costs, farmers have the option to establish floral provisioning habitats from seed. This however, may have lower rate of plant establishment and more weed pressure.

Farmer Adoption

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Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

In 2010, we plan to continue our bee monitoring and identification efforts. All the bee specimens collected will be properly pinned and labeled. The specimens that cannot be identified in-house will be sent to the Penn State Entomology Department, the Pennsylvania State Museum, or the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. All the data collected through the bee census will be added to a regional bee database for a better understanding of ongoing national pollinator crises. After recording the data, some bee specimens will be properly displayed in cases as a voucher for future research, while the rest of the specimens will be used as learning tools in educational programs with farmers and the general public.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.