Posted by Lisa Mason, Arapahoe County Extension
Part of the land grant university mission is to bring the latest scientific research to our community. I want to share a recent experience I had on the front lines of research.
In July, I had the privilege of participating in the International Pollinator Conference in Davis, California. Researchers and land managers from all over the world gathered together to discuss the challenges facing pollinators. I was amazed to hear about the great work being done in the United Kingdom, Germany, Thailand, Australia, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Sweden, and France. While the feeling at times was hopeful and inspiring, I think all attendees recognize that more work still needs to be done to protect pollinators, which are critical to the planet’s ecosystems and human survival.
Here are some of the top areas of research and a few of my take-home messages from the conference:
|A sweat bee, Halictus sp. on a cosmos flower. Photo: Lisa Mason
· Plant diversity is critical for pollinators. Each plant has its own nutritional profile and research is still being done on what chemical compounds benefit bees.
· There are geographical gaps in bee research that need to be addressed. For example, bee diversity tends to be higher in areas where universities or research stations have sampled and studied the local areas. We are lucky in Colorado to have two universities that are conducting significant research here.
· Climate change will affect different bees in different ways. Possible effects may include shifts in their natural range, shifts in phenology (meaning changes in flower bloom times that could affect the bees), reduction in nectar and pollen yields, increases in disease outbreaks, increases in heat stress and other physiological effects, etc. Some bee species may be able to adapt better than others.
· Pesticides is a complex issue and continues to be a major theme in research. Understanding the lethal and sublethal effects of pesticides on bees and the routes of pesticide exposure will help inform best management practices in pesticide use and how to protect bees.
· Understanding how native bees and honey bees interact and coexist continues to be a new area of research. The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is a non-native species but provides important pollination services for plants, crops, etc. Honey bees also provide honey and wax. Native bees are also critical for our ecosystems and provide different pollination services, some very specialized with certain plants. For example, bumble bees pollinate tomatoes and peppers, which other bees cannot pollinate.
· Diseases and parasites were another major research area of the conference. We need to understand how diseases and parasites are transmitted from bee-to-bee so we can maintain healthier honey bee hives. For example, flowers can be a place to where bee diseases can transfer. Also, we need to understand if and how diseases can transfer to different bee species.
· Citizen science continues to be a growing area of research in many fields of study, pollinators included. While many scientists continue to be apprehensive about the data accuracy, more and more research utilizes citizen scientists.
|A painted lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui on a sunflower. Photo: Lisa Mason
How Can You Help Pollinators?
Even though there is much more research to understand pollinators, we can take actions now to help our local pollinators. The best things you can do include:
· Plant more flowers that attract pollinators
· Wildscape your yard for wildlife and pollinator habitat
· Cut your turf grass less often or remove areas of turf that do not serve a purpose
· Leave insect nest and hibernation places alone
· Think carefully and research how and when to use pesticides
· Share your science-based knowledge with your family, friends, neighbors, and community
· Participate in local classes and events to continue learning
· Learn about the benefits of adding native plants to your landscape
|A green metallic sweat bee, Agapostemon sp. climbing out of a Rocky Mountain penstemon flower. Photo: Lisa Mason
CSU Extension has factsheets and a field guide available with information on how to build habitat and attract pollinators to your landscape. Publications include:
I encourage you to keep learning! Protecting pollinators will take efforts from everyone—researchers, land managers, governments, and citizens. While there is so much to learn, we can still use our current knowledge to make a difference.