Williams will speak Feb. 28 on On-Farm Pollinator Benefits for Watermelon Pollination. Williams, an associate professor of pollination and biology and a Chancellor's Fellow, serves as the faculty co-director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and is a member of UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute. His applied research addresses the integration of wild and managed bees for pollination of diverse agricultural crops including seed production, row crops and orchards.
His research addresses a series of questions:
- Under what contexts, in terms of local management and landscape context, can native pollinators provide sufficient pollination for different crops?
- How can we enhance habitat and diversify agricultural systems to promote managed and wild bees?
- Do pollinators like honey bees and wild bees interact in ways to increase the overall effectiveness of crop pollination?
The answers to these questions help alleviate the stress placed on honey bees, Williams says, and also "inform ways to more sustainability manage agricultural systems to promote biodiversity and production."
Williams worked extensively in agro-ecosystems in California's Central Valley and in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. 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. His work in the East and West has helped form the basis for pollinator conservation planting guidelines.
All speakers will discuss their research, and engage with the audience, said webinar co-coordinator Katharina Ullmann, national crop pollination specialist with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis (studying with major professor Neal Williams). Co-coordinator is Extension apiculturist and professor John Skinner of the University of Tennessee.
The webinar series will examine the role of wild bees, honey bees and other managed bees in supporting crop pollination and yield in almond, blueberry, tree fruit, pumpkin, and watermelon. Each webinar will be 45-60 minutes long, with time for questions and a discussion with the presenter. Each registered attendee will later receive a link to the slides.
"The majority of U.S. specialty crop growers depend on bees for pollination of their crops," Ullmann said. "Growers know that without adequate pollination, they would not be profitable. But what are the best pollination strategies for fruit, vegetable, and nut crops? What farm management practices can growers use to support bees and the crop pollination they provide?"
To register, attendees can click on each link:
- Jan. 24, 11 a.m., Pacific Time: Ensuring Almond Pollination (Theresa Pitts-Singer, USDA-ARS and Utah State University)
- Jan. 31, 11 a.m., Pacific Time: Pollinating Highbush Blueberries: Bees Bring Bigger Berries (Rufus Isaacs, Michigan State University)
- Feb. 14, 11 a.m., Pacific Time: Pollinating Apples and Cherries East of the Rockies (Julianna Wilson, Michigan State University)
- Feb. 28, 11 a.m., Pacific Time: On-Farm Pollinator Benefits for Watermelon Pollination (Neal Williams, University of California, Davis)
- March 21, 11 a.m., Pacific Time: Ensuring Pumpkin Pollination (Shelby Fleischer, Pennsylvania State University)
- March 28, 11 a.m., Pacific Time: How to Manage Solitary Orchard Bees for Crop Pollination (Theresa Pitts-Singer, USDA-ARS and Utah State University)
The webinar series will be hosted by eXtension.org, an online Cooperative Extension network. The webinars are free and open to the public and can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.
For more information about the webinar series, access the Bee Health eXtension.org website or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Funding for the webinar series will be provided by the Integrated Crop Pollination Project, a USDA-NIFA Specialty Crop Research Initiative Grant (#2012-51181-20105). Plans are to offer continuing education credits for certified crop advisors.
As an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, he enrolled in an introductory entomology class. “I remember seeing the research technician standing in and indoor flight cage, surrounded by bees,” Nye said. “They were flying from the hive to a feeder stand and completely ignoring her. We covered the long history of beekeeping in that class around that same time and I was just amazed at how much knowledge had been collected. I applied for a job and started working as an assistant to the research technician I saw that day that spring. I spent the next three summers working for the lab of Dr. Gene Robinson and learning as much as I could.”
He went on to spend eight years in Illinois working with the bees—three as an undergraduate assistant and five years as the facility manager and research technician. He joined UC Davis in December 2015.
“Adapting to the California ecosystem has been a bit of an adjustment,” Nye said. “A big part of beekeeping is understanding the ecosystem you live in. If you've got a bee yard that doesn't have a water source close, you may need to move water in during dry periods. Different flowers provide nectar and pollen at varying quantities, so being aware of what's going on in the environment can give you some insight into whether or not you might need to assist your bees with some sugar to make it until the next bloom. That has honestly been my favorite part of moving here, learning about all the trees and shrubs and wildflowers and when they bloom. It's a constant process through the year, and being my first year here it's been really enjoyable to watch the seasons progress."
Nye welcomes the worldwide interest in bees and the crucial role they play. “I think people are starting to understand the complex role bees play in our food system, and I hope in the future we could help educate people about how the agricultural system is helped by natural areas,” he said. “Here in the Central Valley, there is very little unused space. We are able to bring in honey bees on trucks from distant areas to pollinate our crops, but it's a very precarious system that we are relying on to make that work. Having some natural corridors for pollinators year round would really help increase the population of native bees, help the health of honey bees, and keep us from worrying about losing the delicate balance we are keeping between honey bees and agricultural production.”
"I think the general public's knowledge of bees has made amazing advances in recent years. The shortage of bees for agricultural purposes here in the Central Valley really brought beekeeping into the news, followed by a lot of documentaries and things that made people want to be beekeepers or at least plant pollinator friendly gardens. Lots of people bring up beekeeping documentaries they've seen, and I don't think beekeepers were experiencing that 20 years ago. Overall, I'm mostly impressed with the amount of bee related knowledge out in the world right now.
Myths and misconceptions about bees? Often people associate bees with stinging, and falsely claim they have an allergy. “I've been doing this long enough that I don't laugh at people when they tell me they are allergic, but I think people don't completely understand what allergic means,” he said. “Only one or two people out of 1000 are actually allergic and have a life threatening reaction--most people just experience pain and swelling. I try to point out to people that when it hurts and makes their hand swell up, that might not mean they have a bee allergy, but most of the time I just nod my head and move on. I worked a booth at a local fair and half my conversations were people telling me they were allergic because it hurt. I get stung every day, and I can attest that at no point does it stop hurting.”
Nye divides his time with the labs of Extension apiculturist Elina Niño, pollination ecologist Neal Williams, and Brian Johnson, who studies the behavior, evolution and genetics of honey bees. “My responsibilities are pretty spread out,” he said. “The majority of my time is spent keeping the bees healthy enough for experiments.” In peak season, “it's pretty common to just have a few weeks' notice that we need any number of healthy full sized colonies, and like other animals, you can't grow a calf to a full sized cow with any magic tricks, so we try to buffer that by keeping a tight schedule for disease monitoring and making sure all our colonies are as robust as possible.”
What does he like the best about his job? The least?
"My job has a great balance between working out in a natural setting going through bee hives, and coming back to the lab and getting involved in research," he said. "I think doing either one of them by themselves would get a little tedious for me, so I feel really lucky to be able to split myself between the two. The least? It might be kind of a strange complaint, but foxtails. I spend a lot of time walking through tall grass and those foxtails burrow into my shoes and make me crazy. And I'm told I have to worry about them going up my dog's nose? I would say it's an urban myth but the seeds ability to get into my shoe and under my sock is practically magic."
(Editor's Note: For a list of the 2017 apiculture courses that the Niño lab is offering and teaching, see this page.)
Both are free and open to the public and no reservations are required, announced coordinator Katharina Ullmann, crop pollination specialist for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation who holds a doctorate in entomology (Neal Williams lab) from UC Davis.
For the March 10th event, titled “Almond Field Day: Integrated Crop Pollination,” participants will meet from 9 to 11 a.m. in an orchard east of Highway 33, about 5.8 miles north of the intersection between Highway 37 and Highway 36, Ullmann said. Signs will guide the way.
“This field day will provide an overview of integrated crop pollination for almonds,” Ullmann said. Topics will include almond pollination, minimizing risks to pollinators during bloom, and research updates on blue orchard bees and wildflower plantings for almond pollination in Kern County. The field day will include a tour of an orchard integrating honey bees, blue orchard bees, and wildflower plantings.
9 a.m.: Welcome by David Haviland, UC Cooperative Extension, Kern County, and Gordy Wardell, manager of pollination operations Wonderful Orchards, formerly Paramount Farms
9:10: Integrated crop pollination and almonds by pollination ecologist Neal Williams, associate professor, UC Davis, and Katharina Ullmann, crop pollination specialist, Xerces Society
9:25: Blue Orchard Bee research update by Natalie Boyle, postdoctoral researcher, U. S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS)
9:45: Wildflower plantings for almond pollination by Neal Williams
10:05: Reducing risks to honey bees for almond pollination by Gordy Wardell, Wonderful Orchards
10:25: Mating disruption for navel orangeworm by Brad Higbee, director of entomology research, Wonderful Orchards
10:45: Technical and financial support, Nikki Smith, soil conservationist, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
Sponsors are the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, UC Davis, Integrated Crop Pollination Project, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Wonderful Orchards, and USDA's NRCS.
For the March 15th event, titled “Almond Pollination and Orchard Pollinator Planters,” all interested persons will gather from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at 8304 County Road 91B, Zamora.
“This field day will provide an overview of integrated crop pollination and on-farm wildflower plantings for almonds in the Sacramento Valley,” Ullmann said. “We will hear the latest research from a UC Davis lab studying almond pollination and wildflower plantings, learn about almond pollinators and how to support those pollinators using wildflowers. We will also discuss establishment and maintenance practices for planting habitat on field crop edges and provide an overview of plant species appropriate for plantings in the Sacramento Valley and beyond. Two growers will share their perspectives.
The March 15 lineup:
9 a.m.: Welcome by Kat Pope, orchard advisor, UC Cooperative Extension, Sacramento, Solano and Yolo counties; and Rachael Long, owner of the DH Long Farm and Yolo County farm advisor
9:10: Integrated crop pollination, almond pollination and research update by Kimiora Ward, research associate, Neal Williams lab, UC Davis; Ola Lundin, postdoctoral researcher, Williams Lab, and Katharina Ullmann, crop pollination specialist, Xerces Society
9:40: Almond wildflower plantings 101 (DH Long Farm) by Kimiora Ward, research associate, Williams lab; Kitty Bolte, junior research specialist, Williams lab; and Tom Barrios, Barrios Farms
10:25: Solarization for wildflower planting success (Tadlock Farm) by Jessa Kay Cruz, pollinator conservation specialist, Xerces Society; orchard manager, Tadlock Farm
10:45: Technical and financial support, Ha Troung, Yolo County NRCS
The sponsors include UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, UC Davis, Xercies Society, Integrated Crop Pollination Project Colusa County Resource Conservation District, and the Yolo County Resource Conservation District.
Continuing education credits will be given. Participants at the almond field days are asked to bring a hat, sunscreen and good walking shoes. For more information contact Katharina Ullmann at email@example.com or at (530) 302-5504.
The study suggests that wild bee populations likely declined in areas comprising 23 percent of the nation between 2008 and 2013, a decline associated with conversion of natural wild bee habitat into intensive agriculture.
The paper, titled “Modeling the Status, Trends and Impacts of Wild Bee Abundance in the United States,” is published today (Dec. 21) in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences.
The seven-member team, led by Insu Koh of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont, Burlington, integrated a wild bee habitat model, land cover data and expert knowledge to map U.S. bee abundance and trends. Pollination ecologist Neal Williams of UC Davis led efforts to assess habitat quality.
Wild bees and pollination demands
“We see striking mismatches in many places between the demand for pollination and the ability of wild pollinators to support that need,” said Williams, an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who helped design the study and led efforts to assess bee habitat quality as part of the Integrated Crop Pollination (ICP) Project (http://icpbees.org/.
“Indeed it is crops where demand has most increased that we estimate greatest decline in wild pollinator supply,” Williams said.
“The research is also unique in including uncertainty in our knowledge of the quality of habitat for pollinators and thus recognizes where more effort is needed to understand the vulnerability of pollination services,” he added.
Williams noted that the paper has the potential to bring wider attention to the correlation between the status of wild bee communities and crop pollination demands nationally.
Mismatch in pollination supply and demand
The researchers determined that 139 key counties, comprising 39 percent of U.S. pollinator-dependent crop area, exhibit a “mismatch between pollination supply and demand,” with large areas of pollinator-dependent crops and low expected abundance of wild bees.
The authors noted that the supply of managed honey bees has not kept pace with pollination demand and needs, due to management challenges and colony loss over the last decade. “There is growing evidence that wild, unmanaged bees can provide effective pollination services where sufficient habitat exists to support their populations,” they wrote.
“Until this study, we didn't have a national mapped picture about the status of wild bees and their impacts on pollination,” Koh said. More than $3 billion of the U.S. agricultural economy depends on the pollination services of native pollinators like wild bees.
Some of the most important crop pollinators are bumble bees, which have declined over the past decades. “Our mapped index of bee abundance clearly shows that areas of intense agriculture (e.g. the Midwest Corn Belt and California's Central Valley) are among the lowest in predicted wild bee abundance,” the authors pointed out.
Helping agriculture preserve wild pollinators
The authors agreed that the study results may help farmers and agricultural stakeholders develop management efforts to preserve wild bee populations and their pollination services in farmland. Just like honey bees, wild bees are important pollinators and face many of the same threats including habitat loss, environmental pesticide exposure, and climate change.
In addition, the results may help wild bee researchers focus attention on poorly understood regions, the authors said.
Responding to White House call
The study comes on the heels of a 2014 U.S. presidential memorandum calling for a national assessment of pollinators to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators. One goal is to set aside 7 million acres over a five-year period for pollinators.
Williams said that the modeling study provides important information. “Such assessment is highly valuable in response to calls at the federal level (the White House memorandum and resulting agency responses) to direct research and management efforts to wild pollinators,” he said. “I really hope the paper will generate additional original efforts to improve our understanding of the challenges facing pollinators and their critical role in sustainable food supply.”
The team also included Claire Brittain of the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; Taylor Ricketts of the Gund Institute and the University of Vermont; Eric Lonsdorf of Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, Pa.; and Rufus Isaacs and Jason Gibbs of Michigan State University, East Lansing.
The study was completed with support from the Specialty Crop Research Initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute for Food and Agriculture.
Williams will receive an award of $25,000 to be used in support of his research, teaching and public service activities. He will serve as a Chancellor's Fellow until July 1, 2020, Katehi said.
The program, established in 2000 to honor the achievements of outstanding faculty members early in their careers, is funded in part by the Davis Chancellor's Club and the Annual Fund of UC Davis.
His research focuses on the ecology and evolution of bees and other pollinator insects and their interactions with flowering plants, especially in light of changing landscapes. His work is particularly timely given concern over the global decline in bees and other pollinators.
Colleagues praise him for being a gifted scientist doing groundbreaking fundamental research and as an effective communicator of research findings to California agriculture, especially the almond industry.
Williams joined the UC Davis faculty in 2009 and received tenure as an associate professor in 2013. He received his doctorate in evolution and ecology from State University of New York, Stony Brook.
More information on the Fellows, from Dateline