Did you hear that buzz in California's almond orchards?
It takes about two colonies per acre to pollinate California's 1.2 million acres of almonds. That's about 2.5 million bee colonies trucked here from throughout the country.
And now the 2020 almond pollination season, which began around Valentine's Day, is ending, not with a buzz, but with somewhat of a bang as growers worry about whether they'll have enough bees for next season.
In a Jan. 22 article in Ag Alert, assistant editor Christine Souza covered the situation well. In noting that California has some 1.2 million bearing acres of almond trees, she pointed out: "As another 300,000 almond acres come into production in the next few years, beekeepers and farmers say an additional 600,000 beehives will be needed for pollination. Achieving that could be somewhat daunting, as beekeepers report annual bee losses due to challenges such as reduced forage, the Varroa mite and pesticide-related issues."
In a forecast article published Jan. 6 in West Coast Nut on "2020 Almond Pollination Market: Economic Outlook and Other Considerations," Brittney Goodrich, assistant Cooperative Extension specialist, UC Davis Department of of Agricultural and Resource Economics, wrote that the total yield in pounds per acre is "projected at 1,880, down 10 percent from 2019 (United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), 2019). Not all of this was due to poor pollination, growers also experienced less than ideal weather conditions throughout the rest of the growing season."
Goodrich also mentioned that:
- "As of October 15, 2019, almond prices were between $2.63 to $2.98 per pound depending on the variety. Prices have remained fairly steady in this range since 2016 (Champetier, Lee, and Sumner, 2019). Almond returns per acre have also remained fairly steady since 2016, though these returns seem small when compared with the 2013-2015 time period with almond prices well above $3 per pound."
- "Pollination expenses as a percentage of operating costs have increased from 6.7 percent in 1998 to 20 percent in 2016 (Champetier, Lee, and Sumner, 2019)."
- "As expected, counties in the San Joaquin Valley have the highest amount of planted acreage."
- "With the exception of Contra Costa and Sacramento counties in Northern California, increases as a percentage of bearing acreage by county range from 0.2 percent to 6.5 percent of total bearing acreage. Contra Costa and Sacramento counties each saw increases over 40 percent, but combine for a total planted acreage of 217 acres in 2018."
- According to the California State Beekeepers' Association, "average almond pollination fees have gone up around $5 per colony per year since 2017. The range in fees seems to have grown over time, in 2019 there is more than a $60 difference per colony between the lowest and highest fee reported. From talking with others in the industry, the average fee of $195 in 2019 may be on the lower side. Fees for a majority of colonies likely ranged from $200 to $220 per colony in 2019."
Meanwhile, take a look at the honey bees foraging on an almond near the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis campus.
Yes, you can.
If you've been wondering if there's still room for you at the innovative UC Davis symposium on "Saving a Bug's Life: Legal Solutions to Combat Insect Biodiversity Decline and the Sixth Mass Extinction," the answer is yes.
The free public event, set from 8:30 to 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 6 in Room 1001 of the School of Law, 400 Mrak Ave., is sponsored by UC Davis Environmental Law Society (ELS), and aims to bring together law and science to address insect biodiversity decline. You can register in advance on the Facebook page, or just show up at the symposium, according to co-chairs Kelly Beskin (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Peter Jansen (email@example.com). The event will include breakfast, lunch and an evening cocktail reception. (Download the agenda.)
The symposium begins at 8:30 a.m. with a breakfast and check-in, followed by opening remarks by Kevin Johnson, dean, UC Davis School of Law; Benjamin Houlton, director, John Muir Institute of the Environment; and Peter Jansen, Environmental Law Society Symposium co-chair, UC Davis School of Law. Charlton Bonham, director, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, will deliver the keynote address.
Four separate panels will center on protecting insects and biodiversity:
- The Science of Biodiversity Decline
- Listing Insets Under the California and Federal Endangered Species Acts: Procedures, Protections and Repercussions
- Pesticide Use in Agriculture: Protecting Pollinators and Sustainable Yield
- Protecting Insects and Combating the Sixth Mass Extinction: Best Policies and Practices
Insects have been called "the level pullers of the world." One study estimates that insects contribute more than $57 billion a year to the U.S. economy. However, many species currently face extinction.
Experts in the field of entomology and agricultural sciences will converse with leaders in government, legal scholars and practitioners about the current threat to insect populations "and how we can use legal tools, policy and management practices to combat the sixth mass extinction," Beskin said.
Four UC Davis entomologists are among the speakers:
- Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, whose expertise includes wasps. Kimsey is the "go-to" person in the department when the public requests general insect information.
- Neal Williams, professor and pollination ecologist, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who focuses on native bees.
- Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, who has been monitoring the butterfly population of central California since 1972; and
- Brendon Boudinot, doctoral candidate and ant specialist, Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
During the lunch time, the Bohart Museum of Entomology will provide an insect fair. Senior museum scientist Steve Heydon of the Bohart will showcase insect specimens as well as a live "petting zoo," including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, and tarantulas. Also scheduled is honey tasting from the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, directed by Amina Harris. Graduate students will display their research projects, and the Entomology Graduate Student Association will be offering insect-themed t-shirts for sale. In addition, cricket protein bars will be handed out to all those interested.
Sponsors, in addition to ELS, include the California Environmental Law and Policy Center; UC Davis John Muir Institute of the Environment and the UC Davis School of Law.
Mark your calendar to "save a bug's life." It promises to be an educational and fun event.
Meanwhile, scientists want to know where the monarchs are in the early spring. When the iconic butterflies head inland from their coastal overwintering sites, where do they go?
To participate in the Western Monarch Mystery Challenge:
- If you see a monarch outside of overwintering groves, take a picture! (Don't worry, it can be far away and blurry.)
- Report it to iNaturalist (the app is free) OR email MonarchMystery@wsu.edu and be sure to include date, species and location for both methods
- You will automatically be entered to win a variety of prizes every week you report a sighting.
All data will be added to the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper, a year-round community science project tracking milkweeds and monarchs in the West.
UC Davis alumnus Christopher Jason, a technician in the Schultz lab, said WSU researchers are collaborating with the Elizabeth Crone lab at Tufts University; Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation; and UC Santa Cruz. Crone, a biology professor recently on a research sabbatical at UC Davis, told the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology at a seminar Jan. 30 (the same day that Shapiro sighted a monarch in Sacramento) that more research needs to be done on where monarchs are in the spring, as that is a "critical point in their life cycle." Monarch populations are at their lowest at this time of year, Crone said, and individual butterflies may be at their "weakest right after their long overwintering diapause.”In an email, Jason reiterated that "The Western Monarch Mystery Challenge is a campaign to find out where western monarch butterflies are in early spring. We know they spend the winter months (November to February) in groves along the California coast, and start breeding in central California in May, and in some cases, as early as February. However, we know a lot less about where they are and what they're up to in February, March, and April. Solving the mystery of where western monarchs spend the spring is central to conserving and restoring the phenomenon of monarch migration in the West."
I call him the Mountain Boy.
A male carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex, appeared in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif.,on Feb. 27, the earliest we've seen this species.
It's the smallest of California's carpenter bees and is often called the foothill or mountain carpenter bee.The females are black with light smoky-colored wings. The male has bright yellow marks on the lower part of its face and some yellow hairs on the top front of its thorax.
In addition to the mountain carpenter bee, California's species are:
- The Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, the largest of the California carpenter bees. It's about an inch long. The female is solid black, while the male, commonly known as "the teddy bear bee," is a green-eyed blond. Why teddy bear? It's fuzzy and does not sting--or as the late Robbin Thorp (1933-2019) distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, was fond of saying: "Boy bees don't sting."
- The California carpenter bee or Western carpenter bee, Xylocopa californica, the second largest of the California carpenter bees. It's often found in the mountain foothill areas of northern and southern California. It's known for its distinctive distinctive bluish metallic reflections on the body, Thorp says. The females have dark smoky brown wings.
Look around. You may find a "mountain boy" or a "mountain girl" foraging in your yard or local park.
That's what doctoral candidate and ant specialist Brendon Boudinot of the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will do when he presents his exit seminar, "Abdomens and Ants: Evolutionary and Phylogenetic Morphology of the Insects" from 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, March 4 in 122 Briggs Hall on Kleiber Hall Drive, UC Davis campus.
Boudinot, who won the 2019 John Henry Comstock Award, the highest graduate student award given by the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA), joined the UC Davis entomology graduate school program in 2014.
Abstract of his talk: "It is widely yet loosely agreed that the study of morphology--body form, structure and function--is undergoing a post-genomic revival, cautiously labeled 'phenomics' among active practitioners. I argue that the full reality of phenomics has yet to be realized, and that functional anatomy is the linchpin for the meaningful use of morphological data to understand evolution."
"In this seminar, I will present two case studies from my dissertation. The first will focus on reproductive anatomy in the context of the major transitions of insects from a marine, crustacean ancestor to the epically abundant diversity of wing-bearing species. The second and ongoing study combines more than 300,000 point-observations of morphology for 431 extinct and extant species with genomic sequence data to reconstruct the sequence of evolution leading to the living ants. I will introduce the audience to several extinct lineages of ants, including a new family of wasp-ant intermediates, and present functional morphological reconstructions of the ancestors of all ants, living and extinct."
In nominating Boudinot for the Comstock award, Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, wrote: “A highly respected scientist, teacher and leader with a keen intellect, unbridled enthusiasm, and an incredible penchant for public service, Brendon maintains a 4.00 grade point average; has published 12 outstanding publications on insect systematics (some are landmarks or ground-breaking publications); and engages in exceptional academic, student and professional activities."
Active in PBESA and the Entomological Society of America (ESA), Boudinot received multiple “President's Prize” awards for his research presentations at national ESA meetings. He organized the ESA symposium, “Evolutionary and Phylogenetic Morphology,” at the 2018 meeting in Vancouver, B.C. , and delivered a presentation on “Male Ants: Past, Present and Prospects” at the 2016 International Congress of Entomology meeting in Orlando, Fla.
Boudinot served on—and anchored—three of the UC Davis Linnaean Games teams that won national or international ESA championships. The Linnaean Games are a lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competition on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams. He has served as president of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association since 2006, and is active in the campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day; he has co-chaired the department's Picnic Day Committee since 2017.
Boudinot will be among the speakers at an innovative UC Davis symposium on Saving a Bug's Life: Legal Solutions to Combat Insect Biodiversity Decline and the Sixth Mass Extinction, set from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 6 in Room 1001 of the School of Law, Mrak Hall. The event, sponsored by UC Davis Environmental Law Society (ELS), will bring together law and science to address insect biodiversity decline. It is free and open to the public. See official program. (RSVP here or on this Facebook page.)
At the March 6 symposium, Boudinot will be part of a three-member panel from 9:50 to 10:55 a.m. on "The Science of Biodiversity Decline." He will be joined by Angela Laws, endangered species conservation biologist, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation; butterfly specialist Arthur Shapiro, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology; and Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and director of the Center for Biosystematics.