Examining the role of shelterbelts (tree plantings) on early-season honey production and hive growth of honeybees in the North Central Region (NCR). Pollinators, particularly managed honey bees (Apis mellifera), are critical to food production and sustainable agriculture. Annually, $215 billion of global food production is dependent upon honey bee pollination services, indicating the importance of these organisms to global food security. More specifically, honey production is an important revenue source in many communities across the NCR. Despite this economic and ecological importance, honey bees are under threat from many sources including intensified agricultural practices and continued loss of perennial vegetation. As these threats persist, reductions in the temporal availability of food resources, especially in the early growing season, may be reducing honey bee survivorship and limiting honey production.
Our preliminary observations and communications with beekeepers suggest shelterbelts could provide a crucial food source for bees when other resources are scarce. However, research has not evaluated shelterbelts for pollinator use, particularly in the resource-limited early growing season. We will examine the effect of shelterbelts on early-season honey production and bee hive health in North and South Dakota, the top two honey producing states in the United States.
To address this, we will establish honey bee colonies across a gradient of landscapes that vary in the amount of shelterbelts they contain. Our design will simultaneously contrast pollen collection and hive weights (i.e., a proxy for hive growth or health) across these landscapes. We expect to learn how shelterbelts can benefit bees, which could change both shelterbelt and bee management. Additionally, we will identify trees and shrubs that provide food resources for bees. This will help guide United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Soil Conservation Districts (SCDs) across the NCR with future shelterbelt plantings that can have multiple ecological and economic benefits. Identifying and encouraging bee-friendly shelterbelts will 1) help create healthy honey bee populations during the early-season, which will 2) produce more of a commodity (honey) for beekeepers and 3) benefit farmers/ranchers by enhancing the pollinator resources (and services) crucial to the overall success and sustainability of their respective industries. Finally, society in general will benefit from this research as many of the honey bees that spend the summer in the region are a vital source of pollinator services for fruits, nuts and vegetables throughout the United States.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Private landowners interested in pollinators or shelterbelts
- Soil Conservation Districts
- United States Department of Agriculture (Farm Service Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service)
- Understand how shelterbelt abundance (Objective 1) and composition (Objective 2) boosts honey production and honey bee colony growth
- Increase awareness about pollinators, their ecology, and how shelterbelt management can improve their health (Objective 3)
- Beekeepers will select more productive early-season landscapes and produce a larger honey crop
- SCDs will promote cost-effective flowering trees and shrubs in shelterbelts that benefit pollinators
- Landowners will benefit from greater crop and forage pollination because of future pollinator-friendly shelterbelts