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

    Proposal abstract:

    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 crossbreeding/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 from proposal:

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