Crop pollination is one of the most important aspects of agriculture, both economically and ecologically. Worryingly, many pollinators are known to be decreasing worldwide. Anecdotally, many Alaskan farmers have observed similar trends and have had to rely on either the importation of commercially-reared pollinators or hand-pollination for successful crop production. This is especially true for greenhouses and high tunnels, as they act as an additional barrier to insect pollination.
With a short growing season, indoor crops are a necessity for Alaskan producers, which results in the importation of honey bees and/or bumble bees to supplement pollination. This is of great concern because of the possible presence of novel pathogens or parasites which may be transmitted to local native bumble bees. In addition, the cost of bee packages has soared due to the destructive presence of the Varroa mite and colony collapse disorder, and the great shipping distance to Alaska. Hand pollination is an alternative to purchasing pollinators, but this is a time-consuming and tedious process for farmers.
Blue vane traps have recently become a common tool for bumble bee and honey bee monitoring studies. However, the success of the traps at attracting thousands of bumble bees provokes intriguing questions. Can blue vane traps be used to direct native bumble bees into indoor growing areas? Will the traps attract sufficient numbers of pollinators to be an efficient and cost-effective alternative to importing bees to Alaska? We propose a 3-year study to assess the feasibility of attracting native pollinators via modified blue vane traps to increase pollination success within high tunnels. We intend to work with farmers to implement on-farm research, and will provide educational and outreach materials at events throughout the state of Alaska related to the importance of native pollinators and pollination success.
1. Assess a simple method of attracting native pollinators to high tunnels with modified blue vane traps to enhance pollination success.
a. We will evaluate whether or not native pollinators will be attracted into high tunnels by comparing a small high tunnel with and without modified blue vane traps near their entrance. We will monitor pollination success through pollinator visit data collection and the successful production of fruit on tomato. (2019-2020)
2. Assess whether blue vane traps can serve as the only method of pollination for indoor crops.
a. In year two we will expand the study to evaluate pollination success differences of a hand pollination treatment, a modified blue vane treatment, and a natural or no attractant/hand pollination treatment. This will occur at the Georgeson Botanical Gardens with the use of 4 small greenhouses. (2019-2020)
3. To engage local partners and farmers in discussions related to the importance of pollinator habitat to agriculture and factors affecting pollinator health.
a. Outreach events will be held at events throughout Alaska, such as a University open field day, and attending and presenting information at various conferences. We will also work with Calypso Farm and Ecology Center to
talk with students at their science camps. Furthermore, we will design educational material in collaboration with the Georgeson Botanical Garden, and establish a native pollinator demonstration garden at one community
garden in the Fairbanks area. (2019-2020)
Methods were developed with cooperators at the University of Alaska Fairbanks to be implemented in spring 2019. We intend to set-up small greenhouse for a paired comparison at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Georgeson Botanical Garden. Materials and supplies were purchased over the winter of 2018 for use in starting in both on-farm demonstrations and paired comparisons at UAF. Due to wetter than normal climatic conditions we intend to apply for an extension to have 3 complete field seasons, 2019-2021.
Educational & Outreach Activities
For this SARE project, we’ve collaborated with several farmers and UAF faculty in preparation for the 2019 field season. FSWCD also talked about the upcoming project and importance of pollinators at several outreach events, including the Tanana Valley State Fair, the Alaska SARE Conference, and at the Great Lakes Expo and Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan.