Best Management Practices for Regionally-Distinct Populations of the Blue Orchard Bee

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2017: $246,910.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2020
Grant Recipient: USDA Agricultural Research Services
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
Theresa Pitts-Singer
USDA Agricultural Research Service


  • Fruits: cherries
  • Nuts: almonds
  • Animals: bees


  • Crop Production: beekeeping
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, networking


    Honey bees have become increasingly unavailable and expensive for crop pollination since Colony Collapse Disorder was described and the world was alerted to CCD and the many factors that negatively impact honey bee health. Although other managed pollinators, such as bumble bees, alfalfa leafcutting bees, and blue orchard bees (BOBs), are available to pollinate certain crops, a ready BOB supply and well-developed management system for their use are especially lacking. BOB suppliers and managers need more information to supply customers with disease- and pest-free bees, to manage bees for optimal performance for pollination, and to maintain populations in numbers large enough for profitable business and to accommodate large commercial operations. We seek to meet six objectives that tackle primary stakeholder concerns: 1) understanding variation in developmental phenology of regionally-distinct BOB populations; 2) finding the genetic basis for regional differences of BOB sources through cross-breeding/mating experiments; 3) studies of population genetics; 4) examining pest and pathogen communities of BOBs from distinct sources; 5) describing patterns and seeking causes of BOB dispersal/loss in commercial settings; and 6) disseminating user-friendly information to the general public. Field collections, orchard and laboratory behavioral studies, molecular bioassays, and visual, x-radiographic, and microscopic diagnoses all will be employed to meet the research objectives. Dissemination of information and development of public education materials and events will be developed under consultation with Extension personnel in Washington, Oregon, California, and Utah. Findings will reduce the need to trap BOBs from the wild where the impact of trapping is yet unknown and, thus, will preserve local diversity of native populations. Better bee management would provide a more reliable source of alternative bees for pollination of suitable, pollinator-dependent crops. Understanding incidence of pests and disease will reduce the chance of epidemic outbreaks in managed populations and possible spillover to native bees. We will continuously educate the public and primary stakeholders, while seeking valuable input from stakeholders as results unfold and new research approaches are developed.

    Project objectives:

    1. Determine the variation in developmental phenology of regional populations of BOBs by maintaining regionally-specific bees under managed or unmanaged conditions. Year 2 January-December; Year 3 January-June.

    2. Determine the heritability of regional phenology traits for BOBs from California and Utah by examining population crosses in controlled experiments. Year 2 January-December; Year 3 January-June.

    3. Using population genetic tools, assess the extent of population genetic differentiation among regions where BOBs are sourced and where they are deployed, detect the current structure of populations, and understand the potential for future admixture. Year 1 September – Year 3 May.

    4. Using visual or molecular examinations, identify parasites and pathogens obtained from collections of bees from wild-trapped and managed populations, and use findings to infer how BOB stocking density, co-pollination with honey bees, and other management strategies may effect disease transmission within the pollination or mass propagation systems. Year 1 September – Year 2 August.

    5. Determine the difference in the retention of females between California and Utah BOBs used as pollinators in regions outside of their geographic origin by examining the dispersal and flight range of these populations in cherry orchards in regionally distinct environments. Year 3 March-November.

    6. Deliver high quality educational products and training on BOBs through extension and outreach to maximize information sharing and adoption of new technologies. Year 2 October – Year 3 December.

    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.