Virginia Orchard IPPM: Native wildflower plot to provide alternative forage, habitat, and refuge for bee pollinators

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2023: $16,500.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Virginia Tech
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:


  • Animals: bees


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: pollinator habitat, pollinator health

    Proposal abstract:

    Honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) and other wild (non-Apis) bees are important pollinators of many fruit, seed, and vegetable crops, including apples [1]. In the US, pollination services of apples are valued at $10.5 million annually [2]. Pesticide usage is essential to many of these agricultural systems and is necessary to feed the world; however, these pesticides negatively impact bees [3, 4]. Therefore, there is a critical need for innovative solutions to bridge the gap between pest and pollinator management.

    A native wildflower plot has the potential to provide forage, refuge, and habitat for managed and wild bees that is comparatively free from pesticides [5]. However, less is known about how the presence of this plot may affect bee behavior and health. This study will investigate potential benefits of a native wildflower plot in a fruit crop environment in Winchester, Virginia.

    The objectives are to examine the effects of a wildflower plot on honey bee foraging dynamics, pesticide exposure, and non-Apis species richness and abundance by using honey bee waggle dance decoding and GIS mapping, pesticide residue analysis from honey bee-collected pollen, and passive and active field sampling of non-Apis bees. These data will then be compared to previous data for the two years prior to the establishment of the plot in 2021. This will allow us to examine how the native wildflower plot changes these dynamics, which may have significant impacts on Virginia apple best management.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1: Effect of a Wildflower Plot on Apis mellifera Foraging Dynamics and Pesticide Exposure

    This objective will investigate the impact of a native wildflower plot on honey bee foraging dynamics, as determined by waggle dance decoding, in a fruit crop environment during apple orchard post-bloom. This objective will concurrently evaluate the impact of the native wildflower plot on levels of pesticide residues from forager-collected pollen. These data will be correlated with our previous (pre-plot) waggle dance spatial data and pesticide residue analyses.


    Objective 2: Effect of a Wildflower Plot on non-Apis Species Richness & Abundance

    This objective will explore how the establishment of a native wildflower plot influences the species richness and abundance of non-Apis bees in a fruit crop environment in Winchester, VA. Wild bees will be sampled and compared to our previous (pre-plot) sample data to determine how the plot can impact wild bee populations that were likely experiencing similar pesticide exposure.



    In recent years, the scientific community has experienced growing concern over the sheer magnitude of insect declines, in part because it represents the larger struggle experienced by much of our wildlife in the face of Anthropocene changes [4]. Additionally, insect declines possess global consequences: beneficial insects such as pollinators are extremely important in the stabilization of global food production and economic security. Therefore, there exists a critical need for the investigation of techniques that alleviate pest pressures without indiscriminately contributing to beneficial insect decline [5]. One potential strategy for mitigating these declines is the integration of native wildflower plots into agricultural environments. Wildflower plots provide diverse pollen and nectar foraging options for many insect species and may also provide refuge from contamination by offering habitat and alternative food sources to “pull” [5] bees away from areas of routine pesticide exposure.

                    The objectives proposed here are intended to identify the potential benefits of a wildflower plot to fruit crop growers in Virginia as measured by honey bee foraging dynamics & pollen pesticide residues, and non-Apis bee species richness & abundance. Addressing the objectives in this study will help us to better understand the potential benefits of native wildflower plots on bees. The outcomes of this study could lead to evidence-based recommendations for farmers, land managers, policymakers, and other researchers in the establishment and management of wildflower plots as part of standard IPPM strategies in agricultural fruit crop environments.

    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.