Title: Effects of Mulch on Squash Bee Nesting Behavior and Performance
Organic squash producers in the North Central Region currently rely mostly on cultural and physical management methods to suppress pests and promote healthy beneficial arthropod populations. Tillage and mulches are crop management practices frequently used by vegetable growers to prepare seed beds, provide nutrients to the crop and manage pests. Hoary squash bees, Peponapis pruinosa (Hymenoptera: Apidae), are important native specialist pollinators of summer and winter squash. They construct nests in the soil near their host plants in the field during the growing season. Their larvae develop in these underground nests in the field during the fall, winter and spring, emerging as adult bees in July. Reduced tillage has been shown to benefit squash bee populations due to lower soil disturbance, leading to less squash bee nest destruction compared to full tillage regimes. However, little is known about how mulches impact the nesting behavior and overwinter survival of squash bees. I will gather data in a cage experiment and through observations at growers’ farms to determine whether squash bees are deterred by straw mulch placed near squash plants or if mulch impacts the survival and emergence of overwintering squash bees. Gaining this understanding will inform the implementation of management practices that promote healthier, more persistent populations of squash bees and enhanced pollination services which can offset the need for growers to stock honey bees in the North Central Region. Growers will be engaged in person and through post-outreach surveys in order to evaluate the progress of this research, and gain understanding of their perceptions, concerns, and insights. Results will be disseminated through educational materials targeted towards growers, conference presentations, and educational workshops with non-profit collaborators.
Project objectives from proposal:
Learning outcomes of this project will be measured by the number of squash growers interested in learning about the pollination services native bees, such as squash bees provide, and the interaction between commonly used straw mulch and its effect on squash bee nesting, offspring survival and emergence in organic squash production. Squash growers will learn about an important, native, ground-nesting pollinator that directly impacts the success of squash production.
Action outcomes will change squash grower’s knowledge of best management practices of a native pollinator. Growers will learn best management practices when using mulches to promote healthy squash bee populations and provide pollination to their crop. This will reduce the need for renting honey bee hives, increase fruit quality, yield, and profitability of organic squash in the North Central Region. To measure the outcomes, we will conduct a survey to count the number of growers that learned about our recommendations, ask how many found it useful, count how many changed management practices as a result of our outreach efforts and how many experienced an improvement in their pollination services/yield as a result of that change.