The three-year grant, titled "Strengthening Honey Bee Health and Crop Pollination to Safeguard Food Availability and Affordability" and headed by principal investigator Boris Baer, a UC Riverside professor of entomology, also includes the San Diego and Merced campuses. “I'm very excited about so many different kinds of bee expertise joining forces through this project,” Baer said.
"Most excitingly, this funding will not only support research that will help improve pollinator health so crucial for California's agriculture, but it will provide opportunities for training of students and postdoctoral scholars,” said co-principal investigator, Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, which operates the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. “Work focused on improving honey bee stocks via novel tools aligns well with ongoing work in the Niño lab and will further cement collaborations with beekeepers and growers.”
Honey bees pollinate more than 80 agricultural crops, accounting for about a third of the American diet. Researchers attribute the widespread collapse of bee colonies over the past decade to several factors, including pesticide exposure, spread of parasites and pathogens, habitat destruction and environmental changes. Population declines have resulted in decreased pollination services and increased food prices. Worldwide declines continue despite substantial efforts of researchers, beekeepers, conservationists, and growers to identify the issues facing pollinator communities and develop innovative solutions.
The UC scientists plan a three-pronged approach to resolve the issue: develop better breeding programs, better medications and treatments, and better tools to monitor bee health in the hives. Small “listening and smelling” devices will be placed inside the hives to monitor bee health.
In the successful grant proposal, part of the Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives (MRPI), the researchers wrote:
"Safeguarding honey bees and their pollination services requires beekeepers to be better able to manage the health and survival of colonies, which requires research into the causal factors and interactions affecting pollinator health, and the development and implementation of novel tools in close collaboration with industry partners. To do this, we will form a California wide, cross disciplinary research network and
- experimentally study the ecological and molecular factors and their interactions that affect honey bee health and their interactions to identify biomarkers of their health
- use the knowledge gained to develop and deliver new, effective solutions for stakeholders, including remote sensing of bee health, a marker-assisted breeding program, and the development of novel medications,
- build a research industry nexus to conduct collaborative research. We will also develop and deploy new extension and outreach modules that will be offered through UC Cooperative Extension statewide. We will support California beekeepers to build and maintain a sustainable and profitable beekeeping industry, which has implications for food security on a national level."
Niño, who works closely with California beekeepers, launched and directs the California Master Beekeeper Program, which uses science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors for honey bees and beekeeping.
The co-principal investigators also noted in their grant proposal that "The current coronavirus pandemic and impending recession is putting more pressure on agriculture to provide sufficient and affordable food. Honey bees are key to such efforts, and supporting a California based beekeeping industry also decreases the state's dependence on managed pollination from elsewhere, thereby creating new jobs and income."
Funding also will help provide research opportunities for undergraduates, including underrepresented students, with the goal of ensuring that the pipeline of students who enter research, academia, industry, and multiple other professions reflects the diversity of the communities in which they learn and work.
Co-principal investigator James Nieh of UC San Diego, said he and his students will be testing how nutritional supplements may help bees that have been exposed to pesticides and on how to harness the natural honey bee microbiome against a very common bee gut disease.
“We want to use what evolution has already given us to deal with bee disease because this should be a more natural and sustainable approach,” said Nieh, a professor in the Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution, Division of Biological Sciences. “Researchers have also focused a great deal on the harms caused by pesticides and this has helped improve some aspects of regulation," he said in a UC San Diego news release. "But we need to develop treatments for bees that are exposed to these chemicals because we will not realistically be able to eliminate all pesticide use.”
Co-principal investigator Joshua Kohn of UC San Diego said research in his lab is aimed at understanding the complex genomes of feral honey bees in Southern California. These bees have genomes that are a complex mixture of genomes of honey bee varieties from Africa, Europe and the Middle East, Kohn said in a UC San Diego news release. He described the feral bees as "highly genetically diverse and ecologically successful." Their genomes, he pointed out, likely hold variation useful to breeding domesticated honey bees with increased levels of resistance to the common diseases that currently plague the honey bee industry.
“This network of bee researchers comprises a unique mixture of expertise that can apply highly multidisciplinary approaches to benefit the honey bee industry essential to the production of many of California's most economically important crops,” Kohn related.
Other co-principal investigators are Kerry Mauck, Tsotras Vassilis, and Kim Hyoseung, all of UC Riverside. Marilia Gaiarsa of UC Merced is a co-investigator.
Entomologist Vonny Martin Barlow of Blythe, formerly of the UC Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources (UC ANR) and the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM)--and who most recently served an entomology project consultant with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology--passed away unexpectedly Dec. 9 in a Palm Springs hospital. He was 55.
Dr. Barlow, known for his expertise in insect pest management, including pests of rice, cotton and alfalfa, was the third graduate student of the late Larry Godfrey (1956-2017), Cooperative Extension entomologist, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
In an email to friends and colleagues, Sonia Rios, area subtropical horticulture advisor, UC Cooperative Extension, Riverside and San Diego counties, related that Dr. Barlow "passed away unexpectedly on Dec. 9 from a massive heart attack." Services (limited to five people due to the COVID-19 pandemic precautions) will take place Dec. 28 in Palm Springs.
Born May 18, 1965 in Mountain View, Calif., Vonny received a bachelor of science degree in biological sciences, with a special emphasis in entomology, from San Jose State University in 1993; a master's degree in plant protection and pest management from UC Davis in 1997; and a doctorate from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in 2006.
"From there, I went on to North Carolina State University where I gained extensive research and extension experience as a tree fruit post-doc," he related on Linked In. "I worked on evaluating the 'whole-farm' approach to mating disruption used in apple orchards to manage codling moth and oriental fruit moth. I then joined the Agriculture and Natural Resources Division of the University of California in 2009 as an entomology/IPM/crop production farm advisor for Riverside County until 2018. I worked in an area predominated by 75 percent alfalfa rotated with other crops like cotton, mixed melons, lettuce and broccoli."
Dr. Barlow left UC ANR in 2016 to become a pest management consultant, working both with industry and agricultural partners. He served as an affiliated IPM advisor from 2012 to 2017, and was a leader and author of the rice, cotton, and alfalfa Pest Management Guidelines. He did research on biological control and IPM of invasive insects and plants of field and forage agroecosystems.
At UC Davis, where he received his master's degree, he served as a graduate research assistant in the Godfrey lab. His master's thesis project "involved studying the impact of early spring weeds on Lygus bug population dynamics and their natural enemies in the alfalfa hay cropping system," he wrote on LinkedIn. "Alternative sources for feeding and reproduction (e.g., weedy plants) have shown to have a profound impact on Lygus bug populations. I was able to develop recommendations for management of weedy plants in alfalfa that had a two-fold benefit. The first is reduction of crop loss in susceptible crops (e.g., cotton) to Lygus bugs in adjacent fields. The second is reduction of the amount of pesticides used to control Lygus bug populations."
Dr. Barlow co-chaired the Godfrey celebration of life on June 7, 2017 at the Putah Creek Lodge, UC Davis, with distinguished professor and IPM specialist Frank Zalom of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
He is survived by his mother, Janice, and a brother, Cary, both of San Jose.
Lead author Clara Stuligross, a doctoral student in the lab of pollination ecologist Neal Williams, a professor in the Department of Entomology and Nematology, teamed with Williams to study the results of food scarcity and pesticide exposure.
They exposed the bees to the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid, widely used in agriculture, and found that the combined threats—imidacloprid exposure and the loss of flowering plants—reduced the bee's reproduction by 57 percent, resulting in fewer female offspring.
Of the two stressors—food scarcity and pesticide exposure—pesticide exposure showed the great impact on nesting activity and the number of offspring produced, they said.
The study, Pesticide and Resource Stressors Additively Impair Wild Bee Reproduction, accomplished in the spring of 2018 on the grounds of the UC Davis Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Facility, is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Other scientists have conducted similar research on honey bees, but this is the first comparable research on wild bees in field or semi-field conditions.
The blue orchard bee, nicknamed BOB, is a dark metallic mason bee, smaller than a honey bee. It is prized for pollinating almond, apple, plum, pear, and peach trees. California almond growers often set up bee boxes or bee condos for them in their orchards to aid in the honey bee pollination. In the wild, the bees nest in reeds or natural holes.
To study the survival, nesting and reproduction of the blue orchard bee, they set up nesting females in large flight cages, some with high densities of wildflowers and others with low densities that were treated “with or without the common insecticide, imidacloprid.” Bees are commonly exposed to insecticides when they forage on treated flowers.
"Understanding how multiple stressors interplay is really important, especially for bee populations in agricultural systems, where wild bees are commonly exposed to pesticides and food can be scarce,” said Stuligross, who holds a bachelor of arts degree in environmental studies (2014) from Earlham College, Richmond, Ind. She joined the UC Davis ecology doctoral program in 2016.
Onset of Nesting Delayed
Key factors in affecting bee reproduction are the probability that females will nest and the total number of offspring they have. The UC Davis research found that pesticide-exposed and resource-deprived female bees delayed the onset of nesting by 3.6 days and spent five fewer days nesting than unexposed bees.
Professor Williams pointed out that this is a substantial delay because bees nest only for a few weeks, and it's crucial to reproduce female offspring to carry on the future generations. “Fewer females will reduce the reproductive potential of subsequent generations," said Williams, a UC Davis Chancellor's Fellow and a newly elected fellow of the California Academy of Sciences.
They found that only 62 percent of pesticide-exposed bees produced at least one daughter compared to 92 percent of bees not exposed to pesticides.
The study drew support from a UC Davis Jastro Research Award, a UC Davis Ecology Graduate Research Fellowship, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and the UC Davis bee biology facility
The blue orchard bee bee is one of the few native pollinators that is managed in agriculture. North America has 140 species of Osmia, according to a Pollinator Partnership (PP) article in a U. S. Forest Service publication, authored by entomologist and PP member Beatriz Moisset and PP director Vicki Wojcik. “Mason bees use clay to make partitions and to seal the entrance,” they wrote. “This unique mud-building behavior leads to their common designation as mason bees. Honey bees are very important to commercial agriculture, but native bees like the blue orchard bees are better and more efficient pollinators of native crops.”
Imidacloprid, a systemic insecticide that acts as an insect neurotoxin, is used to control sucking insects, termites, some soil insects and fleas on pets, according to National Pesticide Information Center. It mimics nicotine, toxic to insects, which is naturally found in many plants, including tobacco. More than 400 products for sale in the United States contain imidacloprid.
Cooperative Extension agricultural specialist Ian Grettenberger, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and his graduate student, Madison "Madi" Hendrick, will discuss the crops, the pests, and the natural enemies or beneficials at a virtual Facebook live session from 11 a.m. to noon, Thursday, Oct 22.
The event, "The Good and the Bad: Insects and Other Arthropods in Agriculture, with a Focus on California Rice and Alfalfa," will be live-streamed on the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology's Facebook page. (Link to Facebook live here). Grettenberger and Hendrick will present short talks and then field questions. No personal Facebook account is required to join the session, which is free and open to the public.
"This is all about the arthropods, both the pests and beneficials that they study in the rice and alfalfa fields," said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum of Entomology. "Most of the focus is on insects, but tadpole shrimp in rice fields also will be discussed." A virtual family craft activity is also planned.
"I will be discussing some of the insect (or arthropod) problems faced by growers of rice in California and some of the challenges in managing them, Grettenberger said. "In rice, some of the key arthropod pests are tadpole shrimp, which can turn what would have been a lush stand if rice into a poor stand with a lot of floating seedlings. Meanwhile, later in the year, armyworm caterpillars, the larvae of a moth, can chew on rice leaves and destroy plants. I'll discuss some of the ongoing work to better understand and manage these pests."
Grettenberg's fields of expertise include field and vegetable crops; integrated pest management; applied insect ecology, and biological control of pests. (See Spotlight on Ian Grettenberger.) Among his current grants:
- Protection of rice from invertebrate pests
- Insecticide resistant alfalfa weevils in the western United States: Quantifying the scope of resistance and implementing a plan to manage the threat
- Management of key cotton arthropod pests with insecticides and acaricides, a proactive approach to prepare for the invasion of the tomato leafminer (Tuta absoluta) into California
- Detection, biology and control of the exotic Swede midge (Contarinia nasturtii) for California cole crops
- Management of the western spotted and striped cucumber beetle in melon production
- Biological control of the bagrada bug
- Insecticide resistance monitoring and evaluation of efficacy of current chemical tactics for managing aphids and thrips in lettuce
What sparked his interest in entomology? "I had biologist parents, and was drawn into entomology at a pretty young age," Grettenberger said. "I spent plenty of time looking in flowers and turning over logs looking for insects. Once I started thinking about going to graduate school for entomology, I decided to focus on the intersection of agricultural entomology and insect ecology. I wanted to work on applied issues in entomology."
Hendrick, a second-year graduate student in the Grettenberger lab, received her bachelor's degree in iInternational studies at North Carolina State University, and also spent a semester at Nagoya University in Japan (she minored in Japanese).
"I got my start in entomology completely by chance!," Hendrick related. "I needed a science credit and happened to pick a class called 'Insects and People.”' That class really helped me to reframe the way I thought about insects and appreciate what interesting little critters they are. Through that class, I was also able to get a job as an undergraduate assistant in an entomology lab. I worked in a specialty crops lab, where I developed interests in integrated pest management and invasive species. I now study insecticide resistance in the alfalfa weevil, and I'm excited to share what I've learned through this outreach event!"
Grettenberger, Yolo County Farm Advisor Rachael Freeman Long and Madi Hendrick recently wrote a piece in the UC Agricultural and Natural Resources (UC ANR) blog, Alfalfa and Forage News, "A (Virtual )Update on Worms, Weevils an Aphids in Alfalfa."
"This year, the Kearney Research and Extension Center Alfalfa and Forage Field Day went virtual," Grettenberger wrote. "Attendees did not get the chance to look out over lush fields of alfalfa or towering plantings of sorghum, but they get did an update on ongoing work in alfalfa and other forages. Our team put together a rapid-fire video to discuss what are typically the key insect pests in California alfalfa: summer worms, alfalfa weevils, and aphids."
The summer worms in alfalfa include the summer worms: Western yellowstriped armyworm, beet armyworm and alfalfa caterpillar. Another key pest is the alfalfa weevil. The trio also discussed aphids and their natural enemies, including lady beetles, aka ladybugs).
Pests of rice include armyworms, aster leafhoppers, crayfish, rice leafminers, rice seed midges, rice water weevils and tadpole shrimp.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus, but is temporarily closed. The museum houses nearly eight million insect specimens; a live "petting zoo" of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and taranatulas; and a gift shop stocked with insect-themed T-shirts, books, posters, jewelry, candy and insect-collecting equipment.
- Alfalfa and Forage News: A (Virtual) Update on Worms, Weevils and Aphids in Alfalfa (By Ian Grettenberger, Rachael Freeman Long and Madi Hendrick, Sept. 20, 2020) (See video on same page)
- Alfalfa and Forage News: Natural Enemies Are Important for Control of the Aphid Complex in Alfalfa--A Case Study (By Ian Grettenberger, Rachael Freeman Long, Daniel Putnam and Rob Wilson, April 7, 2020)
- UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program: How to Manage Pests of Alfalfa
- UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program: Insects and Other Pests of Rice
A five-member team led by postdoctoral researcher Daniel “Dani” Paredes of the Daniel Karp lab, UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology (WFCB), analyzed a 13-year government database to assess how the landscapes surrounding 400 Spanish vineyards influenced European grapevine moth (Lobesia botrana) outbreaks and insecticides application rates.
The article, "Landscape Simplification Increases Vineyard Pest Outbreaks and Insecticide Use," is now online.
“At harvest, we found pest outbreaks increased four-fold in simplified, vineyard-dominated landscapes compared to complex landscapes in which vineyards are surrounded by semi-natural habitats,” said lead author Paredes, who holds a doctorate in environmental sciences (2014) from the University of Granada, Spain. “Overall, our results suggest that simplified landscapes increase vineyard pest outbreaks and escalate insecticide spray frequencies. In contrast, vineyards surrounded by more productive habitats and more shrubland area are less likely to apply insecticides.”
Landscapes around farms are rarely managed to suppress damaging crop pests, partially because researchers rarely measure the key variables that drive farming decisions. This paper, however “shows how using really huge datasets—in this case generated by government employees working with farmers in Spain--can reveal how natural habitats surrounding agriculture can shape pest outbreaks and pesticide use in vineyards,” said co-author Jay Rosenheim, distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
A solution? At an individual level, farmers may better control L. botrana populations through planting native vegetation in and around their farm. Ideally, they would coordinate with each other to maintain and/or restore large patches of productive, shrubland habitats in the surrounding landscape.
Other co-authors are Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer, Natural Capital Project, Stanford University; and Silvia Winter, Institute of Plant Protection, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria.
Their work was financed by the research project SECBIVIT, or “scenarios for providing multiple ecosystem services and biodiversity in viticultural landscapes,” and a National Science Foundation/USA grant.