Native Bee habitat Rehabilitation; Encouraging greater adoption of sustainable pollination practices
A third of the human diet relies directly or indirectly on biotic pollination. Pollinators contribute 9.5% to the global agricultural output, or about $153 billion. In the U.S., the value of pollination services has been estimated at $18.9 billion for honeybees and $3 billion for native bees. Without bees, the flowers of bee pollinated crops will abort or will set small, misshaped, flavorless and quickly perishable fruit. In addition, many wind pollinated crops have better yields when bees augment the pollination process. Currently, the honeybee population is being decimated by a combination of pests, pathogens, and stresses as result of poor management and overexploitation. However, wild bees can successfully pollinate commercial crops by themselves if some farm land is managed as bee habitat, with an abundance of floral and nesting resources. Wild bees not only provide free pollination but are active in inclement weather and are more effective in vectoring pollen between flowers than honeybees.
In this project, over a three-year period, we proposed to determine the costs and returns per square foot for native bee habitat rehabilitation for farms situated in the northeastern United States. In 2009, 23 different species of bee-rewarding plants were selected for establishing two 25’ X 100’ native bee habitats on two farms. Monitoring of the diversity and abundance of the bee population was done every two weeks with pan traps adjacent to the bee habitats, as well as 500 yards away from them towards the center of the agricultural field. In addition, monitoring of the bee population was done on one other farm that did not register an improvement of floral provisioning. By performing the same type of monitoring in the subsequent two years, we will ascertain if and how much a given floral provisioning can influence bee populations in agricultural environments. This data, corroborated with the records regarding the time and materials necessary for establishing and maintaining the bee habitats, will allow farmers to know what the best conservation practices are, and what are the investments and the returns in doing so. In 2009, both farms have organized open-farm-days where more than160 farmers had the opportunity to see the project and get information on the best native bee habitat conservation practices.
The project has the following performance targets:
Determine the costs per square foot for establishing native bee habitats. These habitats will be comprised of herbaceous perennials started from four-inch-deep plugs that were selected for a year-round overlapping bloom;
Ascertain if and how much the bee population diversity and abundance is affected by the newly established habitats on each of the two farms involved in the research project;
Educate the farmers on the importance of having bee-rewarding habitats in order to have sustainable and free pollination services;
Develop educational materials and programs that will provide farmers throughout PA with information regarding the costs and returns per square foot of native bee habitat rehabilitation.
In 2009, we completed the first phase of the project, which was comprised of plant material selection, purchasing, and installation, habitat maintenance, and bee monitoring efforts. Two 25’ X100’ linear bee habitats were installed on two sites, Dickinson College Organic Farm—Boiling Springs, PA, and Penn State Southeast Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SEAREC)—Manheim, PA. Although not specified in the 2009 NESARE contract, the establishment of a second plot was possible due to some in-house discretionary funds and a generous educational discount (23%) offered by our plant suppliers, North Creek Nurseries—Landenberg, PA. Dictated by plant material availability, the installation of bee habitats was done in stages, starting in May and finishing at the end of June. Per site, on average, we used 2 hours of mechanized labor and 40 hours of manual labor for the bed preparation and plant installation. There was an additional 8 hours per month needed for field maintenance. Due to a rainy early summer, we had very few plugs to replace, and all plants developed relatively fast.
Plant material was selected according to their reward potential and their blooming time. Some plant species were substituted, since the initial proposed plant species were no longer available in our suppliers’ stock. The following are the 23 plant species used in our research plots: Allium cernuum, Anemone canadensis, Asclepias incarnate, Aster laevis (old nomenclature), Aster nova angliae, Coreopsis tripteris, Coreopsis verticillata, Eupatorium perfoliatum, Helenium autumnale, Helianthus X Lemon Queen, Lobelia siphilitica, Monarda fistulosa, Oenothera fruticosa, Penstemon digitalis, Phlox pilosa, Ratibita pinnata, Rudbeckia fulgida, Senecio aureus, Silphium connatum, Sisyrincium angustifolium, Thermopsis caroliniana, Tradescantia o. Mrs. Loewer, Veronicastrum virginicum. For more information on the plant species’ common names, growth habits, and moisture and light requirements, please find the plant material list attached in this report. Although very important for bee habitats in the early season, shrubs and trees were installed only at the Dickinson College farm due to the fact that they develop slowly and their contribution to the bee population diversity and abundance would not be reflected in our data. Because of heavy rains and site inclination, the mulch and some soil from the bee habitat plot installed at Dickinson College farm was washed away and registered increased weed pressure, resulting in extra 40 hours of labor. Overall we had very good plant growth on both sites with abundant blooming. Both bee habitats served as demonstration fields at open-farm days for farmers, as well as other numerous educational events for various green industry personnel.
Due to the positive rapport between a low variance associated with a good capacity to collect diverse bee species, in 2009 we chose bee pan traps to use as our bee monitoring method. The bee pan trap method consisted of placing brightly colored, white, yellow, and blue plastic cereal bowls on the ground from 7:00 am till 5:00 pm every two weeks. We filled the bowls with water and used a drop of detergent in each as a surfactant. Starting in May and finishing at the beginning of November, we monitored the bee population and diversity on both farms. On each farm this was done in two places, on the edge of the habitat and 500 yards away from the bee habitat, towards the center of the farm. Additionally, pan traps were set at one other farm, where practices regarding pollinator habitat conservation were not modified. This bee monitoring protocol will allow us to better identify statistically the effects our project has on bee populations when floral provisioning is enhanced. Approximately 800 specimens were collected and are currently processed and identified.
In 2010, we plan to continue our bee monitoring and identification efforts. All the bee specimens collected will be properly pinned and labeled. The specimens that cannot be identified in-house will be sent to the Penn State Entomology Department, the Pennsylvania State Museum, or the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. All the data collected through the bee census will be added to a regional bee database for a better understanding of ongoing national pollinator crises. After recording the data, some bee specimens will be properly displayed in cases as a voucher for future research, while the rest of the specimens will be used as learning tools in educational programs with farmers and the general public.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
A large number of organizations throughout North America are working on conserving and encouraging pollinators, with great emphasis on honeybees. Valuable research is being done on bee biology, habitat restoration, pollinator plants, plant pollinator interactions, bee diversity, bee pests and diseases, synergistic and sublethal pesticide effects on bees, etc. However, despite the significance of the subject matter and the information available, the Northeast and Mid Atlantic regions have no programs investigating the costs and returns of rehabilitating native bee habitat on organic farms. Moreover, the farmers in these regions need to have demonstration farms that will be how-to guides for providing forage and nesting resources for the native bee population. These types of projects can incorporate all the available data and give a full perspective to the farmer on the work volume and investment level for accomplishing pollination sustainability.
In 2009, both farms organized open-farm days that provided an opportunity for more than 160 farmers throughout the area to get more information on native bee habitat rehabilitation practices. Additionally, each farm organized various events that attracted the public and numerous green-industry professionals and provided them with educational materials about pollinator conservation and bee-rewarding plant material. For example, SEAREC has an annual event called Summer Garden Experience that attracts about 300 visitors. Furthermore, the project coordinator provided lectures on pollinator conservation practices for more than 1,000 attendees at numerous farmer meetings throughout Pennsylvania, including the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention, Keystone Crops and Soils Conference, New Holland Vegetable Day, Shippensburg Growers Meeting, Backyard Fruit Growers, and GardenWise.
Regional Horticulture Educator
Penn State Cooperative Extension
181 Franklin Farm Lane
Chambersburg, PA 17202
Office Phone: 7172639226