Relationships Between Cucurbit Crop Pollinators and Landscape Diversity

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2010: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Grant Recipient: Iowa State University
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Mark Gleason
Iowa State University


  • Fruits: melons
  • Vegetables: cucurbits
  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bees


  • Education and Training: extension, on-farm/ranch research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, organic agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    Approximately 35% of global food production relies on pollination, and bees are the most significant provider of this critical ecosystem service. Cucurbit crops need pollination for adequate yield and fruit quality so many growers depend on non-native honeybees to ensure sufficient pollination. Many small, diversified farms in the North Central Region depend on these crops for a significant portion of their income. Native and wild bees can supplement or even replace non-native honey bees, whose hives have been decimated recently by diseases and pests. To understand how to take full advantage of native and wild bees, I will conduct the first survey and analysis of species diversity and abundance of cucurbit pollinators across a range of landscape types in the Midwest. During the summers of 2010 and 2011, my on-farm research in Iowa will yield bee species richness and abundance statistics, and also incorporate data from Kentucky and Pennsylvania farms in collaboration with researchers at the University of Kentucky and Penn State University. I will analyze how cucurbit pollinator species respond to characteristics of the landscapes surrounding these farms. This research - the first of its kind for cucurbit crops - will help growers to determine specific practices to conserve and restore the farm landscape to maximize the pollination impact of native and wild bees. I will communicate the project’s findings in peer-reviewed publications, grower-targeted publications through the Xerces Society, presentations at grower conferences and field days, webinars, online Extension publications, and a teaching case history to be used in university classrooms.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1: Assess wild bee species abundance and diversity in Iowa cucurbit fields
    I will collect pollinator species from eight small-scale, diversified cucurbit farms during Summer 2011, then identify and catalog them. I will also pinpoint associations between these ecosystem service providers and farm management practices (e.g., pesticide use, tillage).

    Objective 2: Analyze the landscape diversity surrounding cucurbit fields surveyed
    Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), I will index and analyze the landscapes within a 1.5-km radius of surveyed cucurbit fields. For this purpose, I will use data from the National Agriculture Imagery Program, in addition to data collected using hand-held Geographic Positioning Systems (GPS) units in the field.

    Objective 3: Statistically analyze relationships between wild bee species abundance/diversity and landscape diversity
    Employing appropriate statistical software and methods, I will use data obtained from Objectives 1 and 2 in 2010 and 2011 to assess the strength of relationships between bee communities present in cucurbit fields and the complexity of the landscape surrounding the cucurbit fields.

    Objective 4: Make research results and conclusions available to growers
    I will share the results of my research through presentations at grower field days, conferences and webinars. Additionally, I will prepare grower-oriented summaries of the work in online publications from Iowa State University Extension and the Xerces Society.

    We will provide the first clear picture of wild pollinator communities of cucurbit crops in the NC Region, and the first analysis of how these pollinator species respond to the surrounding landscape. Growers will be aware of the specific pollinator bee species in the North Central Region. Results will be distributed to growers region-wide through Extension publications, a project website, presentations at grower conferences and field days and grower focused webinars. The results will help growers to make informed decisions on honeybee rental, conservation and habitat provision, and provide a benchmark from which population changes over time can be understood. I will write a case history to help community college and university students to understand the value of wild pollinators and the importance of conserving their habitat.

    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.