The University of California, Davis, is a world leader in seed, plant and agricultural sciences. Some 100 seed and seed-related companies are located near UC Davis and benefit greatly from its proximity, but the influence of UC Davis extends throughout the USA and far beyond.--Seed Central.
So it stands to reason that Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will keynote a Seed Central-affiliated conference on Thursday, April 10 on the Davis campus. He'll speak on "Honey Bees in Seed Crop Pollination" at 6 p.m. in the UC Davis Conference Center.
Mussen serves as the Extension apiculturist for the entire state, but is also involved at the national and global level.
Seed Central is co-organizing the two-day conference (which ends April 10) with the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. This is the Veg Research and Development Forum, an annual meeting of the research managers of vegetable seed companies with breeding activities for the North American market. Its purpose, according to the Seed Central website: "to enable discussion among research managers of long-term, pre-competitive research topics and research-related policy issues of importance to the North American vegetable seed industry. Attendance includes invited participation with university scientists, technology providers to the seed industry and members of the downstream agriculture and food industries."
If you've ever seen honey bees pollinating an onion umbel (flowering head), they're a joy to watch. The bees come in twos and threes, buzzing up, around, over and under. It's their world on a string. A globe on a stalk. A bee-covered ball.
Nevertheless, there's concern among the onion growers and beekeepers about decreasing seed production due to the increased use of insecticides to control onion thrips. This insect vectors the pathogen, iris yellow spot virus.
Hybrid onion seed is indeed a small specialty crop in California, but an important one. To get acquainted with what's going on in the industry, read the UC Agriculture an Natural Resources (UC ANR) publication (No. 8008) on "Onion Seed Production in California," published in October 2013. One of the experts on onion seed production in California is Yolo County Farm Advisor Rachael Long, who directs the Yolo County Cooperative Extension, Woodland.
If not, monarch butterflies are in a heap of trouble.
An interesting study just published in journal PLOS One by researchers at the University of Jamestown, North Dakota, and the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, revealed that the larvae of monarch butterflies that skip meals (host plant, milkweed) will become adults with a smaller wing size, as much as 2 percent smaller.
That's important because monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are migratory animals that travel long distances, and without milkweed, Asclepias spp., their migration will be adversely affected.
In their research, “Does Skipping a Meal Matter to a Butterfly's Appearance? Effects of Larval Food Stress on Wing Morphology and Color in Monarch Butterflies,” Haley Johnson of the University of Jamestown and her colleagues also found that monarch larvae deprived of food became adults with a different wing coloration: paler wings.
This study nails home the point why we need to plant milkweed. As the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation says on its website: “The loss of milkweed plants in the monarch's spring and summer breeding areas across the United States is believed to be a significant factor contributing to the reduced number of monarchs recorded in overwintering sites in California and Mexico. Agricultural intensification, development of rural lands, and the use of mowing and herbicides to control roadside vegetation have all reduced the abundance of milkweeds in the landscape.”
To address this seed shortage, the Xerces Society launched Project Milkweed to produce new sources of milkweed seed “where seed has not been reliably available: California, the Great Basin, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Florida."
Bottom line, the Xerces Society is:
- raising public awareness about milkweeds' value to monarchs and native pollinators
- promoting the inclusion of milkweeds in habitat restoration efforts
- developing milkweed seed production guidelines, and
- building new markets for milkweed seed.
The Xerces website also offers sources of native milkweed seed in your state.
Meanwhile, the butterflies that overwintered in Mexico are on the move and in Texas. For more information on butterfly migration, see Monarch Butterfly, Journey North.
Talk about a good insurance policy.
Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) just published an article in the Journal of Applied Ecology that indicates that blueberry growers who invest in nearby wildflower habitat to attract and support wild bees can increase their crop yields. They're saying that the cost of planting a habitat for wild bees can pay for itself in four years or less.
"Other studies have demonstrated that creating flowering habitat will attract wild bees, and a few have shown that this can increase yields," MSU entomologist and co-author Rufus Isaacs said in a press release. "This is the first paper that demonstrates an economic advantage. This gives us a strong argument to present to farmers that this method works, and it puts money back in their pockets."
"This is HUGE news," said pollination ecologist Neal Williams, associate professor of entomology at UC Davis, who was not involved in the study. "This is the first study to quantify pollination benefit as a result of habitat planting adjacent crops. It also works through the economics of the implementation of the the habitat and accrued economic and yield benefit over time. Fantastic stuff."
This is right up Willilams' alley, er, hedge row. He and his colleagues are exploring the role of wild native bees, honey bees and other managed species as crop pollinators and the effects of landscape composition and local habitat quality on their persistence. His research on pollination spans the disciplines of conservation biology, behavioral ecology and evolution. One of his primary research foci is on sustainable pollination strategies for agriculture. This work is critical given ongoing pressures facing managed honey bees and reported declines in important native pollinators such as bumble bees.
Williams' research has taken him from eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey to California's Central Valley. "A continuing goal is to provide practical information that can be used to improve the long-term stability of pollination for agriculture in California, as well as promote pollinator conservation and management," Williams says. In addition to work in agriculture, he is also studying how habitat restoration affects pollinator communities and pollination.
Earlier California studies, involving Clare Kremen of UC Berkeley, Neal Williams and other colleagues, showed that wild bees make honey bees better pollinators; that is, the presence of wild bees makes the honey bees work harder.
Regarding the MSU study, the research team planted surrounding bueberry fields with a mix of 15 native perennial wildflowers, hoping to increase the wild bee population and thus improve pollination in the blueberry fields.
And yes, that's exactly what happened.
"In the first two years as the plantings established, we found little to no increase in the number of wild bees," Isaacs related in the press release "After that, though, the number of wild bees was twice as high as those found in our control fields that had no habitat improvements."
To quote from the press release: "Once the wild bees were more abundant, more flowers turned into blueberries, and the blueberries had more seeds and were larger. Based on the results, a two-acre field planted with wildflowers adjacent to a 10-acre field of blueberries boosted yields by 10-20 percent. This translated into more revenue from the field, which can recoup the money from planting wildflowers."
Isaacs was quick to point out that the researchers are not suggesting that growers cease using honey bees for pollination services. But with 420 species of wild bees in Michigan alone, he says, it makes sense to attract the "free" wild bees. Indeed, it does.
This study could have major implications for not only research in California, but nationwide.
So said Senior Extension Associate Maryann Frazier of Penn State when she addressed the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's seminar last Wednesday, April 2 in Briggs Hall.
Frazier, on a trip to California to discuss her research with the Marin County Beekeepers, took time out to travel to the UC Davis campus at the invitation of Master Beekeeper/writer Mea McNeil of the Marin County Beekeepers and associate professor Neal Williams and assistant professor Brian Johnson of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Frazier, a 25-year extension specialist, expressed concern about the pesticide loads that bees are carrying, as well as the declining population of bees and other pollinators.
Beekeepers, she said, used to be much more concerned about colony collapse disorder (CCD), that mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult honey bees abandoning the hive, leaving the queen bee, brood and food stores behind. CCD surfaced in the winter of 2006, but today, when beekeepers report their winter losses, "they're not blaming CCD any more," she said.
Frazier listed the prime suspects of troubled bees as poor nutrition, mites, genetics, stress, pesticides, nosema and viruses. "Varroa mites are a huge issue," Frazier said.
Turning to pesticides, she said a 2007-2010 U.S. analysis of some 1000 samples (wax, bees and flowers) showed "an astonishing average of six pesticides per sample and up to 31 different pesticides per sample." The analysis, done by U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service Lab (USDA/AMS) screened for 171 pesticides at parts per billion. The samples involved a CCD study, apple orchard study, migratory study and submissions from individual beekeepers.
Frazier compared the interaction of pesticides in bees to the interaction of medications in humans. When you go to the doctor, you'll be asked the names of the medications you're taking, she said. The "interaction" situation is similar to what's happening with the honey bees.
In a bee colony, lethal exposures to pesticides are easy to see, Frazier noted. "You'll see dead bees, bees spinning on their backs and bees regurgitating." But the sub-lethal effects can mean "reduced longevity, reduced memory and learning, reduced immune function and poor orientation."
Marin County Beekeepers recently undertook a similar study of pesticide analysis, raising $12,000 to do so ($300 per sample). "Marin is very mindful of pesticides, probably more than any other place," Frazier said. McNeil agreed. The results are pending publication.
"If we truly want to protect our pollinators," Frazier concluded, "three things need to be addressed or changed:
- Beekeeper reliance on chemicals and drugs to manage mites and diseases
- Pest control practices, particularly agricultural land
- The approach of more regulatory agences assessing risk and protecting the environment"
As the seminar participants left Briggs Hall, many could be heard discussing the take-home message: "average of six pesticides per sample, up to 31 pesticides per sample."
The honey bees know it before we do.
The tangerines are blooming.
Today dozens of bees buzzed around our tangerine trees, doing their annual job of pollinating the crop.
The tangerine, the common name of the mandarin orange, is native to southeast Asia. According to the Oxford English dictionary, the word, "tangerine," originates from Tangier, a seaport in Morocco on the Strait of Gibralter.
No matter its name or its origin, the bees love it. According to California Bountiful, California's citrus industry is valued at more than $1 billion annually--second after Florida "which produces the most valencia oranges; those are the seeded oranges used mostly for orange juice. California is No. 1 in fresh-market oranges, most notably the navel, but also produces a significant share of the nation's valencias, lemons, grapefruit and tangerines."
Tangerines are a favorite because of their taste, small size, easy-to-peel appeal, and now something else. Researchers at the University of Western Ontario discovered a substance in the tangerine skins that "not only prevents obesity in mice, but also offers protections against type 2 diabetes, and even atherosclerosis, the underlying disease responsible for most heart attacks and strokes." (Source: Wikipedia)
Who would have thought?