Maximizing the health and size of on-site native pollinator populations for crops requiring sonication pollination

Project Overview

GNE17-146
Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2017: $14,973.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2019
Grant Recipient: University of Connecticut
Region: Northeast
State: Connecticut
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Julia Kuzovkina
University of Connecticut

Information Products

Commodities

  • Fruits: berries (blueberries), berries (cranberries), melons
  • Vegetables: cucurbits, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bees

Practices

  • Crop Production: crop improvement and selection, pollination, pollinator habitat, pollinator health, seed saving
  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, technical assistance, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, hedgerows, riparian buffers
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    The purpose of this project is to maximize the health and size of on-site populations of native pollinators for crops that require sonication pollination, such as blueberries, cranberries, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers,and melons. Considering recent declines in pollinator populations and the expense and risk of spreading parasites associated with managed bee populations, tailoring effective on-site pollinator habitats has become important for farmers who grow pollinator-dependent crops. Most literature that provides recommendations for designing on-site pollinator forage and habitats for farmers assume all pollinators share similar foraging needs. While some literature distinguishes itself by supplying profiles of the behaviors and nesting habitats of various pollinators, the authors tend to recommend the same species of flowering plants as forage for all insect pollinators. However, recent research has shown that, if provided enough options, some pollinators strategically will select those plants that provision for particular ratios of protein, lipids, and nutrients. Compared to honey bees (Apis mellifera) foraging in the same landscape, bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) – one of the primary pollinators of sonication pollinated crops – show a tendency to preferentially forage on plant species with pollen that contains higher protein and particular macronutrient ratios. In addition, to avoid or dilute the negative effects of toxic phytochemicals, bumble bees may collect pollen from multiple host-plant species. This research will attempt to develop a selection of plant species and strategies from which farmers growing crops requiring sonication pollination can choose for establishing on-site pollinator habitats that incorporate these new and consequential findings.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1.Consult with farmers of crops requiring sonication pollination to explore:

    a.The methods by which they meet their crops’ pollination needs
    b.The amount they spend on meeting these pollinator needs
    c.The proportion of farmers who depend on on-site pollinator forage and habitat
    d.The average amount of marginal land farmers can devote to on-site pollinator forage
    e.Those plant species these farmers have found that effectively increase native pollinator populations and increase crop yields

    2.Establish relationships with farmers of crops requiring sonication pollination and receive their permission to collect data on native pollinator visitation to their crops. This data will be used to:

    a.Compile a list of those species of native pollinators that most frequently visit crops requiring sonication pollination
    b.Compile a list of perennial and biennial plant species preferred by these crop pollinators for forage when the farmers’ crops are not in bloom.

    3.Create a list of native and near-native perennial and biennial plants preferred by pollinators of crops requiring sonication pollination using these methods:

    a.Interviews with farmers
    b.Interviews with native pollinator conservation experts
    c.Literature review of scientific and green industry publications
    d.Passive crowdsourcing of on-line photographs of floral visitation by arthropods that provide sonication pollination

    4.Establish common garden plots of the expanded list of herbaceous forbs and flowering woody shrubs that will supplement existing plots of native New England plant species at the University of Connecticut Research Farm in Storrs, Connecticut.

    5.Collect data concerning visitation by targeted pollinators to common garden plots. Such data collection will include:

    a.Vacuuming of pollinators that visit plotted plants while in bloom and presenting pollen
    b.Observing pollinator visitations over set periods of time
    c.Photographing the plots of plants at peak bloom to count the number of flowers per unit of area in order to calculate frequency of visitation per unit of area covered by forage plants.

    6.Conduct statistical analysis of pollinator visitation to determine those forage species most preferred by targeted group of native pollinators.

    7.Write report that compiles collected data and information.

    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.