- Fruits: apples, general tree fruits
- Crop Production: food product quality/safety
- Education and Training: demonstration, display, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop, youth education
- Farm Business Management: agritourism
- Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, wildlife
European Honeybees (Apis mellifera) play a vital role in pollinating the majority of all human agriculture. Becoming so dependent upon a single species to pollinate such a large facet of food production has proven unsustainable, especially as worldwide declines intensify. Since 2006 alone, a 30% reduction in managed colonies of honeybees in North America has placed much of Georgia’s agriculture at potential risk by lowering crop yields and by increasing pollination costs (renting honeybee hives). Failure to act now could lead to future issues without the capital or time required to uncover adequate solutions. It is prudent to find possible solutions and alternatives before a serious crisis develops. To safeguard Georgia agriculture, researchers must not only look for answers to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), but they must also devise alternatives to the honeybees if researchers fail to fix CCD and the other issues decimating honeybee populations. One possible alternative to using honeybees is to use native bees for pollination services. Native bees could be used to supplement or replace the honeybee in the pollination of a specific crop. To investigate the potential native bees have for supporting commercial agriculture, a three-step approach must be taken. Step one is to perform native bee species surveys in order to know which species are present in a given farm or orchard. Step two is to identify specific native bees as potential target pollinators for certain cultivated plants. Step three is to perform minor habitat modifications to increase the abundance of the target native bees. The current project has addressed steps 1 and 2. For step one, we have characterized the native bee species diversity and abundance in Georgia Apple Orchards over the past three years (2010-2012). For step two, we have confirmed the target native bee pollinators in Georgia Apple Orchards. We have identified Andrena crataegi as the “Georgia Apple Bee”. Other excellent bee pollinators in Georgia apple orchards were the mining bees in the sub-genus Melandrena, bumblebees, carpenter bees, and mason bees. During the 2013 field season, several types of habitat modifications (e.g. nest site creation, floral resources) will be investigated. In addition, we will continue to survey native bee abundance and diversity at North Georgia Apple Orchards. Significant changes in the native bee community have been observed when the apple bloom shifts three or more weeks early from the tradition bloom period.
Project objectives from proposal:
The main objective of the study is to create habitat/nesting enrichments that will maximize the overall abundance of the previously identified target bee species (mining bees and mason bees). These nesting/habitat enrichment areas are hypothesized to increase the abundance of the targeted native bees already present in the orchard.
In order to boost the abundance of the main native bee target species, the mining bees (Andrena crataegi and other mining bee species), soil enrichments sites will be needed. These bees prefer patches of soil in which to dig tunnels for their habitat and a place to brood their young. At each orchard, four trenches (about 12 inches deep and 60inches long X 18 inches wide) will be excavated.
In order to boost the abundance of the secondary target bee species (mason bees) four special nesting boxes for the bees will be created within each plot. The center of the nesting box will contain a large section of about sixty tubes (varying from 6mm to 8 mm) or wooden boxes with 40-80 holes (8 mm diameter).
The secondary objective is to continue the survey of the native bee pollinators for a fourth year within the apple orchards, with a focus placed specifically on the apple bloom periods. Significant weather changes, perhaps due to global warming, have resulted in drastically different growing seasons. The apple bloom has shifted 4-5 weeks earlier in the past two years from the typical bloom in April. These much earlier apple blooms can impact which native bees are present to pollinate them (e.g. mason bees, Osmia species, are more important during early apple blooms).