Understanding Pest and Disease Transmission Dynamics and Effects of Agrochemicals on Honey Bee Colonies Pollinating Crops in the Western States

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2015: $248,025.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2018
Grant Recipient: Oregon State University
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Ramesh Sagili
Oregon State University

Annual Reports

Information Products

Oregon State University Bee Research Update (Conference/Presentation Material)


  • Animals: bees


  • Animal Production: parasite control
  • Crop Production: pollinator health
  • Education and Training: extension, participatory research

    Proposal abstract:

    Honey bee pollination is estimated to be worth more than $17 billion in the U.S. (Calderone 2012). Honey bees are critical for production of several crops in the western states, including California almonds which account for 75% of world production and are valued at $3.6 billion. When other cropping systems are included, West Coast beekeepers provide nearly half of the nation’s commercial pollination services. Recent annual honey bee colony losses (averaging 30%) are alarming to both beekeepers and growers, who are interdependent for their economic viability. Beekeepers have identified several areas of concern in the West Coast pollination circuit. Risks to honey bees include (1) pathogen exposure and transmission between closely packed colonies in holding yards, (2) exposure to agrochemicals (e.g. fungicides and insecticides) applied during bloom, and (3) poor nutrition. The pollination year begins when the majority of commercially managed honey bee colonies (~1.5 million) are transported to California to meet almond pollination demands each February. The almond cropping system represents an incubator for epidemics as colonies across the nation are transported here for pollination. This could severely affect the entire country’s pollination services. In spite of this potential threat, there is little prospective pathogen monitoring of honey bee and none reaching the scope of our proposed work.During almond bloom, and in each subsequent pollinated crop, honey bees are exposed to multiple applications of agrochemicals. Many of these pesticides persist in hive materials, resulting in prolonged exposures. These exposures may weaken colonies and make them more likely to succumb to the diseases and pathogens they contracted from closely placed colonies in almonds. Our goal is to characterize synergistic effects between agrochemicals and honey bee diseases, which has been little investigated in field settings. Our results will help to mitigate risk to pollination services for almonds and other crops (blueberry, seed crops, melons) dependent on bee pollination.Together with beekeepers and growers, we have identified pesticide groups and exposure scenarios of particular concern during the pollination year. These include fungicides sprayed during almond and blueberry pollination, novel antifeedant insecticides applied during pollination of seedcrops, and neonicotinoids used in chemigation systems in watermelons. Our strategy is to monitor transfer of pests and pathogens and exposure to fungicides and insecticides in selected experimental colonies during pollination of these crops. By correlating our results with stakeholder input and survey responses, we will identify practices that minimize bee diseases and pesticide exposures that effect honey bee colony health in these crops. Multiple communication tools will be used to solicit input and encourage cooperation between multiple stakeholder groups in implementing strategies suggested by our results. The stakeholders (beekeepers and growers) will be involved during all phases of this study, including designing experiment to data collection. The information obtained from this study could potentially be used in other bee pollinated crops to promote bee health and pollination services.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1: Analyze patterns in management practices that potentially affect honey bee colony health in almonds, carrot seed, and watermelons.

    Both grower and beekeeper practices that are likely to influence pesticide exposure and disease transmission in bees will be investigated. By evaluating colony health and the concentration of fungicides and insecticides in hive materials, the success of these practices will be assessed.

    i) Evaluate management practices that affect honey bee health
    ii) Correlate concentrations of pesticides in bee bread and comb wax with application timing and methods
    iii) Survey beekeeper and grower behavior, attitudes, and economic data

    Objective 2: Isolate risk factors using laboratory and semi-field studies

    We will perform controlled experiments to identify practices that are most and least likely to result in colony losses.

    i) Identify parameters that decrease transfer of pests and pathogens between selected experimental colonies
    ii) Characterize toxicity of selected pesticides and assess their risk to bees at field concentrations

    Objective 3: Identify strategies to improve colony health and mutual economic benefit

    We will identify the factors which incur the most risk to colonies and work with stakeholders, particularly our advisory panel, to analyze the cost and feasibility of modifying these practices.

    i) Identify significant risk factors
    ii) Work with stakeholders to weigh cost/benefit/feasibility of potential interventions to growers and beekeepers

    Objective 4: Synthesize and disseminate new information and measure impacts

    Using multiple methods, we will communicate best practices to stakeholders.

    i) Conduct stakeholder advisory panel meetings to review scientific results and direct communication of best practices
    ii) Create outreach and informational materials
    iii) Design evaluation tools to assess economic, social, and environmental impacts

    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.