Assessing the effects of non-honeybee insects on pollination in diversified organic farms

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2016: $24,871.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2017
Grant Recipient: Washington State University
Region: Western
State: Washington
Graduate Student:
Principal Investigator:
Dr. David Crowder
Washington State University

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: beekeeping, intercropping, pollination, pollinator habitat, pollinator health
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, transitioning to organic

    Proposal abstract:

    Insect pollinators are essential for the production of 70% of the most widely consumed global food crops. Historically it has been assumed that honey bees and native bees provide the majority of these pollination services. Many non-bee insects such as moths, butterflies, flies, wasps, and beetles also function as pollinators. In addition, non-bee insects might indirectly impact pollination by interacting with bees. However, the ecological impact of non-bee insects, and whether they contribute to sustainable crop pollination on farms, has rarely been studied. Research on the impacts of non-bee insects on pollination services is thus critical, especially considering the recent, widespread declines in honey bee and native bee populations. If non-bee insects provide substantial pollination services, or increase the pollination efficiency of bees, then conserving these species could improve the stability and profitability of many agricultural systems. Our project will address these questions with three objectives: (1) Characterize communities of non-bee insects on diversified organic farms and their direct contribution to crop pollination; (2) Examine whether non-bee insects indirectly affect crop pollination by bees; and (3) Educate farmers and the public on the role of non-bee pollinators in sustainable farming. We will achieve our objectives by working with an established network of 24 diversified organic farms in western Washington. On each farm we will sample communities of non-bee insects to assess their abundance, diversity, and stability. We will also identify crop species that are most often visited by non-bee pollinators. This will be complemented by experiments to examine whether interactions between non-bee insects and honey bees impact pollination services. If non-bee insects complement bees, conservation of both groups on farms would promote sustainable crop pollination. Overall, our research objectives will generate impactful information on the ecological impacts of non-bee pollinators on diversified farms, and guide conservation efforts for these overlooked pollinators. Our research will be paired with an extensive and innovative outreach program. We will work with grower-partners, universities, and community organizations to host workshops and farm walks focusing on pollinators at our research sites. We will also produce a website, blog, and monthly podcast to share accessible and fun information on pollinators; we will also provide information that listeners and readers can use to encourage pollinator populations on their farms or gardens. Through these research and outreach efforts our project directly addresses SARE Administrative Council goals to: (1) produce impacts and outcomes that can be identified, measured and disseminated; (2) incorporate research and education efforts with on-farm projects; and (3) use both research methods and educational outreach components to accomplish the SARE goal of producer adoption on the ground.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Goals: Our overarching goals are to characterize the communities of non-bee pollinators on diversified organic farms and assess their direct and indirect impacts on crop pollination.




    Objective 1: Characterize communities of non-bee pollinators on diversified organic farms and their direct contribution to crop pollination




    (i) Sub-objective 1a: Sample non-bee pollinator communities on diversified organic farms


    (ii) Sub-objective 1b: Determine structure of plant-pollinator networks on farms


    (iii) Sub-objective 1c: Assess pollination efficiency of non-bee species in the field


    (iv) Sub-objective 1d: Measure the effects of habitat augmentation and landscape intensity on non-bee pollinator abundance, diversity, stability, linkage diversity, and pollination efficiency.




    Rationale: Through this objective we will gain an understanding of the diversity, abundance, and stability of various groups of non-bee pollinators on diversified organic farms while also assessing the structure of the plant-pollinator networks on farms. These data will allow us to determine which farm characteristics promote healthy non-bee pollinator communities. Moreover, assessing pollination efficiency will allow us to determine the direct impact of non-bee insects on crop pollination.




    Objective 2: Examine whether non-bee pollinators indirectly affect crop pollination by bees




    Rationale: In Objective 1 we will characterize the direct impacts of non-bee insects on pollination. Here we will examine how key groups of non-bee insects indirectly impact pollination by affecting the behavior of honey bees. Understanding these interactions is essential to develop sustainable crop pollination strategies on diversified farms.




    Objective 3: Educate farmers and the public on the importance of non-bee pollinators




    (i) Sub-objective 3a: Conduct farm walks and workshops focused on non-bee pollinators


    (ii) Sub-objective 3b: Develop print materials on non-bee pollinators and their role in sustainable pollination on farms


    (iii) Sub-objective 3c: Develop online sources of information focused on non-bee pollinators to engage and inform the broader public




    Rationale: This objective will facilitate engagement of farmers and community members on non-bee pollinators, while directly engaging them in assessing these communities on their farms




    Measurable Milestones:



      • Characterization of non-bee communities on 24 farms (by Sep 2016/2017)


      • Measurement of pollination efficiency by non-bees (by September 2016/2017)


      • Quantify indirect effects of non-bees on pollination by bees (by September 2017)


      • Development of educational materials for growers (by January 2017)


      • Participation of over 100 farmers at field days (by September 2017)


      • Over 1,000 downloads of podcasts on non-bees (by December 2017)





    Future Directions: This project represents the first two-years of what we expect will become a much longer-term project. We expect to expand our work on pollinator conservation on diversified organic farming systems to other states in the western region. Moreover, we will further develop our network of citizen scientists to engage the public in pollinator conservation while providing scientific data on non-bee pollinators across a broad geographic area.

    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.