- Author: Ruben Alarcon
Pollination ecologists have typically studied a focal plant species and one or a few closely related pollinator taxa, such as bumblebees, which fostered the view that plant-pollinator relationships are highly specialized. However recent community-scale studies have revealed that many pollination systems are generalized, such that plants are visited by diverse, and spatiotemporally variable, pollinator assemblages. My goal is to reconcile traditional views of "specialized" floral adaptation with ecological generalization. Specifically my lab will be incorporating aspects of pollinator foraging behavior and flower/pollinator phenotype, into the analysis of plant-pollinator communities using network techniques. To address this issue my lab is exploring several plant-pollinator systems, including sub-alpine meadows in Colorado and California, the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona, as well as the coastal sage scrub community surrounding the CSUCI campus.
From an applied perspective my lab is also working to maintain honeybee populations for crop pollination. In the United States over 130 crops require insect pollination, with nearly one-third of our diet coming from honeybee pollination services. However, over the last several years large numbers of honeybee colonies have been lost to Colony Collapse Disorder. Working with beekeepers and growers, my lab is trying to assess the benefits of providing supplemental forage for colonies transported to California every winter to pollinate almonds. We are also available to assist Ventura County beekeepers in identifying Nosema microsporidian infections and to monitor parasitic mites.
In addition to working with honeybees my lab also studies the nesting and foraging behavior of native bees, including the Blue Orchard Bee, Osmia lignaria. By furthering our understanding of native bee biology we hope to increase their use as sustainable pollinators. In collaboration with the UC Cooperative Extensions, Ventura County, we will also be studying how native bees could be used to improve avocado pollination.