Rae Olsson firstname.lastname@example.org 509-335-4846
PULLMAN, Wash. - A tiny bee imposter, the syrphid fly, may be a big help to some gardens and farms, new research from Washington State University shows.
An observational study in Western Washington found that out of more than 2,400 pollinator visits to flowers at urban and rural farms about 35% of were made by flies--most of which were the black-and-yellow-striped syrphid flies, also called hover flies. For a few plants, including peas, kale and lilies, flies were the only pollinators observed. Overall, bees were still the most common, accounting for about 61% of floral visits, but the rest were made by other insects and spiders.
"We found that there really were a dramatic number of pollinators visiting flowers that were not bees," said Rae Olsson, a WSU post-doctoral fellow and lead author of the study published in Food Webs. "The majority of the non-bee pollinators were flies, and most of those were syrphid flies which is a group that commonly mimics bees."
Syrphid flies' bee-like colors probably help them avoid predators who are afraid of getting stung, but they are true flies with two wings as opposed to bees which have four. The flies might have additional benefits for plants, Olsson added, since as juveniles they eat pests like aphids. As adults, they consume nectar and visit flowers so have the potential to move pollen the same way that bees do, though it is less intentional than bees who collect pollen to feed their young.
For the study, the researchers surveyed plants and pollinating insects and spiders on 19 rural farms and 17 urban farms and gardens along the Interstate 5 corridor in Western Washington. They conducted surveys six separate times over two years. In addition to the visits by bees and syrphid flies, they also catalogued more rare visits by other arthropods including wasps, lacewings, spiders, butterflies, dragonflies, beetles and ants--all with visits of less than 4%.
Olsson first noticed the many different non-bee pollinators while working on a bee-survey project led by Elias Bloom, a recent WSU doctoral graduate. The results of this study underscore the need for researchers as well as gardeners and farmers to pay more attention to alternative pollinators, Olsson said, and hoped that similar studies would be conducted in other regions of the country.
"Bee populations are declining, and we are trying to help them, but there's room at the table for all the pollinators," Olsson said. "There are a lot of conservation and monitoring efforts for bees, but that doesn't extend to some of the other pollinators. I think people will be surprised to find that there are a lot more different types of pollinating insects - all we really need to do is to start paying a little more attention to them."
The study also noted pollinator differences between rural and urban spaces. Observations sites in urban areas showed a greater diversity of pollinators corresponding with the wider range of plants grown in city gardens and smaller-sized farms. Rural farms with their larger fields of plants had a greater abundance.
For every grower, urban or rural, who is interested in increasing the number and diversity of pollinators visiting their fields or gardens, Olsson recommended increasing the variety of flowering plants.
Making sure that something is flowering all throughout the season, even if on the edge of a field, will support the biodiversity of pollinators because their different life stages happen at different times of the year.
"Some pollinators like certain butterflies and moths are only present in a pollinating form for a small period of time," Olsson said. "They may only live for a few days as adults, so when they emerge and are ready to pollinate, it's good to make sure that you have something for them to eat."
Photo: Not a bee, a hover fly or syrphid fly
A recent publication points out the need for identifying and improving habitat for avocado pollinators.
The role of insect pollinators in avocado production: A global review
Insect pollination increases the yield and quality of many crops and therefore, understanding the role of insect pollinators in crop production is necessary to sustainably increase yields. Avocado Persea americana benefits from insect pollination, however, a better understanding of the role of pollinators and their contribution to the production of this globally important crop is needed. In this study, we carried out a systematic literature review and meta-analysis of studies investigating the pollination ecology of avocado to answer the following questions: (a) Are there any research gaps in terms of geographic location or scientific focus? (b) What is the effect of insect pollinators on avocado pollination and production? (c) Which pollinators are the most abundant and effective and how does this vary across location? (d) How can insect pollination be improved for higher yields? (e) What are the current evidence gaps and what should be the focus of future research? Research from many regions of the globe has been published, however, results showed that there is limited information from key avocado producing countries such as Mexico and the Dominican Republic. In most studies, insects were shown to contribute greatly to pollination, fruit set and yield. Honeybees Apis mellifera were important pollinators in many regions due to their efficiency and high abundance, however, many wild pollinators also visited avocado flowers and were the most frequent visitors in over 50% of studies. This study also highlighted the effectiveness of stingless bees (Meliponini) and blow flies (Calliphoridae) as avocado pollinators although, for the majority of flower visitors, there is a lack of data on pollinator efficiency. For optimal yields, growers should ensure a sufficient abundance of pollinators in their orchards either through increasing honeybee hive density or, for a more sustainable approach, by managing wild pollinators through practices that protect or promote natural habitat.
Read the full article: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jen.12869
Hover fly visiting an avocado flower in the South-West of Western Australia (©2021 DPIRD)
- Author: Brittney Goodrich
By Brittney Goodrich, Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis
If you own or manage a commercial avocado orchard, you have likely debated at one point or another whether to seek out honey bee colonies to pollinate your orchard, and how much to pay the beekeeper for those pollination services. A recent academic paper published in the Journal of Applied Entomology summarizes findings regarding the role of insect pollination in avocado production, and I would encourage you to take a look, especially if you have not sought out honey bee colonies in the past (see Dymond et al., 2021 referenced at end of article). Dymond et al. conclude that “In 19 out of 23 studies, insect pollinators contributed significantly to pollination, fruit set and yield.” And “In most situations, growers will benefit from an increased density of pollinators.” However, they note that renting honey bee colonies may not make economic sense for every orchard. In this article, I'll touch on some factors that may influence a grower's decision to place honey bee colonies in avocado orchards for pollination services.
Are managed honey bee colonies needed in your orchard?
Given the conclusions of Dymond et al. (2021), if you are a grower who has not placed honey bee colonies in your avocado orchard in the past, this may be something to consider going forward. Though, doing so may not guarantee increases in yield because your orchard has likely been receiving pollination services from wild pollinators and/or honey bee colonies located nearby. If your orchard is located near natural pollinator habitat, you may receive sufficient wild pollinators to obtain significant fruit set, in which case additional bees may not be necessary. Foraging honey bees typically seek out the least competitive forage sources, so if your orchard without honey bee colonies is located near an orchard in which the grower paid for pollination services, it is likely you are “borrowing” bees from your neighbor's orchard. In that situation, bringing in managed honey bees may not make the most economic sense from your perspective, but it may make your neighbor happy!
Supply of honey bee colonies
Depending on location, avocado bloom can begin in late March/early April and last through May/June (Bender, 2013). One important factor in the availability of honey bee colonies for pollination services for avocado bloom is the number of colonies in California at the end of almond bloom. In 2020, roughly 2.4 million colonies were required to pollinate California's almond orchards, far exceeding the number of colonies that remain in California year-round. This means roughly 2 million colonies were shipped in to California to meet this demand. This number makes up approximately 88% of the total number of colonies in the U.S., so beekeepers bring colonies from as far as New York and Florida to meet these needs (Goodrich and Durant, 2020; Goodrich, 2019).
For avocado growers, this means at the very beginning of avocado bloom, there may still be a surplus of bees left in California. Beekeepers from northern states, e.g., North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana, can't transport colonies back right away given there may still be snow on the ground and little blooming for the bees to forage on. However, as spring progresses throughout the rest of the U.S., the number of bees in California begins to decrease substantially. Looking at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Honey Bee Colonies Report, on April 1, 2018, there were 1.1 million colonies in California and by July 1, 2018 the number of colonies was nearly half that at 590,000.
Traditionally, California beekeepers would place colonies in or near citrus orchards for honey production after almond bloom (Champetier, 2010). In addition to being good for bees (and their keepers), this practice has benefitted growers of nearby crops that require pollination services. For example, a beekeeper might place colonies for no charge in an avocado orchard that needs pollination services simply to gain access to the prime honey-producing location. However, given the surplus of colonies remaining in California after almond bloom, I suspect (notably without any direct empirical evidence) these locations are not as prime as they once were. Supporting evidence for my theory is shown in Figures 1 and 2. Figure 1 displays a fairly prominent downward trend in total honey-producing colonies in California since 1990, and over the same time period, the average amount of honey produced per colony in California has trended downward as well. If the essential inputs to honey production, i.e., floral nectar and pollen sources, were roughly equivalent over this time period, one would expect for honey production per colony to increase as the number of colonies decreases given the lower competition over floral sources. Figure 2 shows bearing citrus acreage over this time period. Citrus acreage has decreased since the late 1990s, which might partially explain lower honey production per colony in recent years. However, the decreasing trend in honey production per colony occurred even in the late 1990s when citrus acreage in California was increasing. These trends suggest that the influx of bee colonies due to almond pollination requirements have encroached on forage resources previously utilized by California beekeepers, lowering their potential for honey production. Again, I caveat the previous suggestion with the fact that I have not yet directly tested this hypothesis, so these relationships could be coincidental.
Get the whole story at: http://ceventura.ucanr.edu/Com_Ag/Subtropical/
There is a purpose
Without their keen sense of smell, mosquitoes wouldn't get very far. They rely on this sense to find a host to bite and spots to lay eggs.
And without that sense of smell, mosquitoes could not locate their dominant source of food: nectar from flowers.
"Nectar is an important source of food for all mosquitoes," said Jeffrey Riffell, a professor of biology at the University of Washington. "For male mosquitoes, nectar is their only food source, and female mosquitoes feed on nectar for all but a few days of their lives."
Yet scientists know little about the scents that draw mosquitoes toward certain flowers, or repel them from others. This information could help develop less toxic and better repellents, more effective traps and understand how the mosquito brain responds to sensory information -- including the cues that, on occasion, lead a female mosquito to bite one of us.
Riffell's team, which includes researchers at the UW, Virginia Tech and UC San Diego, has discovered the chemical cues that lead mosquitoes to pollinate a particularly irresistible species of orchid. As they report in a paper published online Dec. 23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the orchid produces a finely balanced bouquet of chemical compounds that stimulate mosquitoes' sense of smell. On their own, some of these chemicals have either attractive or repressive effects on the mosquito brain. When combined in the same ratio as they're found in the orchid, they draw in mosquitoes as effectively as a real flower. Riffell's team also showed that one of the scent chemicals that repels mosquitoes lights up the same region of the mosquito brain as DEET, a common and controversial mosquito repellant.
Their findings show how environmental cues from flowers can stimulate the mosquito brain as much as a warm-blooded host -- and can draw the mosquito toward a target or send it flying the other direction, said Riffell, who is the senior author of the study.
The blunt-leaf orchid, or Platanthera obtusata, grows in cool, high-latitude climates across the Northern Hemisphere. From field stations in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington state, Riffell's team verified past research showing that local mosquitoes pollinate this species, but not its close relatives that grow in the same habitat. When researchers covered the flowers with bags -- depriving the mosquitoes of a visual cue for the flower -- the mosquitoes would still land on the bagged flowers and attempt to feed through the canvas. Orchid scent obviously attracted the mosquitoes. To find out why, Riffell's team turned to the individual chemicals that make up the blunt-leaf orchid's scent.
"We often describe 'scent' as if it's one thing -- like the scent of a flower, or the scent of a person," said Riffell. "Scent is actually a complex combination of chemicals -- the scent of a rose consists of more than 300 -- and mosquitoes can detect the individual types of chemicals that make up a scent."
Riffell describes the blunt-leaf orchid's scent as a grassy or musky odor, while its close relatives have a sweeter fragrance. The team used gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy to identify dozens of chemicals in the scents of the Platanthera species. Compared to its relatives, the blunt-leaf orchid's scent contained high amounts of a compound called nonanal, and smaller amounts of another chemical, lilac aldehyde.
Riffell's team also recorded the electrical activity in mosquito antennae, which detect scents. Both nonanal and lilac aldehyde stimulated antennae of mosquitoes that are native to the blunt-leaf orchid's habitat. But these compounds also stimulated the antennae of mosquitoes from other regions, including Anopheles stephensi, which spreads malaria, and Aedes aegypti, which spreads dengue, yellow fever, Zika and other diseases.
Experiments of mosquito behavior showed that both native and non-native mosquitoes preferred a solution of nonanal and lilac aldehyde mixed in the same ratio as found in blunt-leaf flowers. If the researchers omitted lilac aldehyde from the recipe, mosquitoes lost interest. If they added more lilac aldehyde -- at levels found in the blunt-leaf orchid's close relatives -- mosquitoes were indifferent or repelled by the scent.
Using techniques developed in Riffell's lab, they also peered directly into the brains of Aedes increpitus mosquitoes, which overlap with blunt-leaf orchids, and a genetically modified strain of Aedes aegypti previously developed by Riffell and co-author Omar Akbari, an associate professor at UC San Diego. They imaged calcium ions -- signatures of actively firing neurons -- in the antenna lobe, the region of the mosquito brain that processes signals from the antennae.
These brain imaging experiments revealed that nonanal and lilac aldehyde stimulate different parts of the antenna lobe -- and even compete with one another when stimulated: The region that responds to nonanal can suppress activity in the region that responds to lilac aldehyde, and vice versa. Whether this "cross talk" makes a flower attractive or repelling to the mosquito likely depends on the amounts of nonanal and lilac aldehyde in the original scent. Blunt-leaf orchids have a ratio that attracts mosquitoes, while closely related species do not, according to Riffell.
"Mosquitoes are processing the ratio of chemicals, not just the presence or absence of them," said Riffell. "This isn't just important for flower discrimination -- it's also important for how mosquitoes discern between you and I. Human scent is very complex, and what is probably important for attracting or repelling mosquitoes is the ratio of particular chemicals. We know that some people get bit more than others, and maybe a difference in ratio explains why."
The team also discovered that lilac aldehyde stimulates the same region of the antenna lobe as DEET. That region may process "repressive" scents, though further research would need to verify this, said Riffell. It's too soon to tell if lilac aldehyde may someday be an effective mosquito repellant. But if it is, there is an added bonus.
"It smells wonderful," said Riffell.
Mosquitoes are Drawn to Flowers as Much as People
Caption: An Aedes mosquito with pollen sacs on its eyes feeding from Platanthera flowers.
Credit: Kiley Riffell
Research to help plant growers
protect bees and manage pests.
A group of scientists from the IR-4 Project is doing research to explore the relationships between bees, environmental horticulture plants, and pesticides. This group has put together a database allowing users to create customized plant lists for bees, to research articles, to find pollinator news updates and to research best management practices documents. Check it out:
The research is primarily targeted towards helping environmental horticulture growers, but the information should also produce valuable resources for home gardeners or anyone interested in the interplay between bees, plants, and pesticides.
This website is their hub to: