Dr. Bob Peterson on PolliNation with Andony Melathopoulos

Alfalfa leafcutting bees (Megachilie rotandata) don’t make the headlines like honey bees do, but they are pretty important to agricultural production. These bees pollinate alfalfa plants to make the seed that gets planted out across hay fields across the US and beyond. This week we learn about the peculiar management system associated with leafcutting bees. Our guide is Dr. Bob Peterson, who is Professor of Entomology at Montana State University, where he leads the research, teaching, and outreach program in Agricultural and Biological Risk Assessment. Dr. Peterson also shares insights from his work around alfalfa leafcutting bee management and vector control.

Dr. Peterson has authored or co-authored 110 peer-reviewed journal articles, 14 book chapters, and one book. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses, including environmental risk assessment, insect ecology, and various special-topics graduate courses. In 2019, he will become president of the Entomological Society of America, the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. Founded in 1889, ESA today has more than 7,000 members affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government.

Listen in to today’s episode to learn about the uniqueness of leafcutting bees, how they’re managed, and how to keep your bees safe in using pesticides.

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“The goal here is that we manage populations using the best science to have the minimal impact on the environment. That’s the ultimate goal.” – Dr. Bob Peterson

Show Notes:

  • How alfalfa leafcutting bees are managed
  • The life history of the alfalfa leafcutting bee
  • Why honey bees are not good pollinators for the alfalfa crop
  • The technology used to manage alfalfa leafcutting bees
  • What conflicts arise between mosquito control and managing leafcutting bees
  • Why understanding the difference between toxicity and risk is so crucial in using pesticides
  • What techniques leafcutting bee operators can use to minimize collateral damage of pesticides
  • Why honeybees are more sensitive to pesticides, despite being larger than leafcutting bees
  • The alternatives to pesticide in combating mosquitoes
  • Bob’s advice for those managing leafcutting bees on minimizing their exposure to pesticides

“When you look at an alfalfa field, if it has what looks like little metal or wooden sheds in the field, that’s where hundreds and hundreds of thousands of leafcutting bees are doing their jobs.” – Dr. Bob Peterson

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Dr. Hollis Woodard on PolliNation with Andony Melathopoulos

Bees can live in some extreme environments; from the hot deserts of the US southwest, to the tundra in Alaska and northern Canada. Dr. Hollis Woodard’s research focuses on the underlying mechanisms that allow these bees to adapt to these extremes, providing insights into basic bee biology that can help us understand how bees might respond to our rapidly-changing planet. Dr. Woodard is an Assistant Professor of Entomology at the University of California, Riverside. From 2013-2015, she was a USDA-NIFA Postdoctoral Fellow working on the nutritional ecology of bumble bees with Dr. Shalene Jha at the University of Texas at Austin. She received a PhD in Biology in 2012 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she worked with Dr. Gene Robinson on the molecular basis of social evolution in bees.

Listen in to today’s episode to learn about the bees that evolved in vastly different climates, and why Dr. Woodard’s lab studies the way they have adapted.

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“I started thinking, I have learned a lot about bee nutrition and behavior to answer fundamental biological questions about bumble bees, but if this group is in trouble maybe I can take what I learned to apply to questions of how to conserve them.” – Dr. Hollis Woodard

Show Notes:

  • Bumble bee diversity and the wide range of habitats they have adapted to living in.
  • How bees in the arctic have changed to fit within their environment.
  • How bees have evolved sociality multiple independent times, but how all share common sugar metabolic pathways.
  • Why some bumblebee populations are doing okay while others are in steep decline.
  • The challenges that are facing native bees today.
  • The key challenges to a national native bee monitoring system and some of the ideas for tackling these problems.
  • Why E.O. Wilson has been such a big inspiration for Dr. Woodard.

“There are some groups across the US who are monitoring for native bees and one the things we can do [to monitor bees as a country] is start to unite some of these efforts and link up and standardize approaches. We need to move beyond the borders of a state, because many bees don’t exist within the boundaries of one state.” – Dr. Hollis Woodard

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Oregon Pollinator Week 2018 on PolliNation with Andony Melathopoulos

Oregon just hosted its largest Pollinator Week in its history and we thought it was a great opportunity to catch up with some of the people who made the over 20 events in the state happen. We start the episode at the Pollinator Festival in Klamath Falls (June 22) where we caught up with Dr. Nicole Sanchez (Assistant Professor, Horticulture, OSU) and Akimi King (Biologist, US Fish and Wildlife Service), we then met up with Rich Little (Linn County Master Gardeners, Oregon Bee Atlas) and Tim Wydronek (Linn Benton Beekeepers Association) at the event at the Corvallis Farmers Market (June 23), followed by Pam Leavitt (Lane County Beekeepers Association) and Alison Center (North American Butterfly Association) at the Eugene Science Center (June 23). The episode concludes at the final event of Oregon Pollinator Week at the High Desert Museum in Bend with Margaret Marshall (Master Gardeners) and Louise Shirley (Natural History Curator, High Desert Museum). It’s a great episode to learn how to engage the public around issues of pollinator health.

Listen in to this special episode to learn how young students can learn about pollinator science and health, and the way education is changing young minds.

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“It’s so cool to see so many kids out here checking out pollinators, and how sophisticated they are and how they really do know a lot about these insects already.” – Nicole Sanchez

Show Notes:

  • How Nicole is engaging school children in pollinator education
  • Why microscopes are a key component of early science education
  • The role of flies in pollination
  • Why kids will probably remember the time they made “bombs” for Oregon Pollinator Week
  • The importance of monarch butterflies in Klamath Falls
  • Why people need to know the difference between bees and wasps
  • How Tim is cleverly showing the importance of pollinators in our food
  • Tim’s advice for people interested in keeping bees of their own
  • Why Pam believes early childhood education is crucial
  • How education is changing fear of bees into curiosity
  • How to help out the monarch butterfly population
  • What makes Bend’s High Desert Museum unique
  • How the location of the High Desert Museum helps immerse it’s attendees

“I think the National Pollinator Week is very important because it gives us an opportunity to remind people what role pollinators play in their health.” – Rich Little

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Drs. Margaret Couvillon and Roger Schürch on PolliNation with Andony Melathopoulos

PolliNation was joined this week by Drs. Margaret Couvillon and Roger Schürch from Virginia Tech. As you will learn in this episode, the Couvillon Lab investigates the dynamics of how pollinators collect their food in the landscape, with a specific focus on honey bee foraging, recruitment, and health. Dr. Couvillon is in the Department of Entomology at Virginia Tech. Dr. Schürch is a Research Assistant Professor studying the Behavior, Ecology and Evolution of Insects. Over the last few years he has become increasingly interested in the honey bee waggle dance both as a tool for foraging ecologists, as well as from a basic science perspective. Today they talk about their collaborative work on using honey bee dance behavior as a way to assess habitat quality for bees.

Listen to today’s episode to find out what we can learn from bee dances, and how home gardeners can make a difference creating their own pollinator habitat.

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“Let’s say you want to assess a large area for bee forage availability. If you are a traditional ecologist, you would walk transects and catalog the flowers you see, collect nectar and pollen samples to determine how much each flower is producing, and you have to account for competition. […] Even if you could do all that we calculated that it would take over 1,600 days to cover 90 km2. This is why we turned to the honey bee. The honey bee can do a lot of this hard work for us.” – Dr. Margaret Couvillon

Show Notes:

  • How to measure the efficacy of small pollinator habitats
  • Why the size of the habitat may not as big of a factor in pollinator population growth
  • Why a bee’s dance can point to their pollen sources
  • How researchers are able to use the bee’s dance to extrapolate useful data
  • How a bee’s dance moves dictate distance and direction of food
  • What we can learn from the inaccuracy of a bee’s dance
  • How Margaret and Roger are using this research to develop habitat restoration for pollinators
  • What one can answer with this research
  • What our guests will be focusing on in their upcoming research
  • The techniques Margaret and Roger use to create the most useable data in researching bee dances
  • What can be learned from studying the miscommunication of the bee dances

“If you put an observation hive in a landscape and observe the duration of the honey bee dances, which translate into foraging distance, you will be able to say [whether a habitat is good or bad for the bees] at a given time.” – Dr. Roger Schürch

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Dr. Ramesh Sagili on PolliNation with Andony Melathopoulos

Dr. Ramesh Sagili is an Associate Professor in the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University and heads up OSUs mighty Bee Lab. He is a regular guest on PolliNation and this week he comes on the show to tell us how to manage colonies for an intense honey flow (happening right now in Western Oregon with the onset of the blackberry flow). It’s also been an unusual year with colonies brooding up early in the year and this brings on the threat of varroa mites. Dr. Sagili explains why an early spring can be both a blessing and a curse and what to do about it.

On today’s episode, learn how to keep your bees healthy and productive, what is most important in maintaining your bees, and how to prevent varroa mites.

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“Close to 50% of the nectar that [honeybees] bring in around the year is from blackberries.” – Dr. Ramesh Sagili

Show Notes:

  • How beekeepers can get ready for blackberry nectar season
  • What the process is of getting honey into the colonies
  • What honey supers and queen excluders are
  • Why wax production is such an important factor and can’t be overlooked in honey production
  • Why this season is the perfect time to consider dividing your colony
  • What other opportunities are available for beekeepers during this season
  • How to learn when to perform key maintenance with your bee boxes
  • How to use your honey supers
  • Why beekeepers should be concerned with mites for this season’s bees
  • What treatments are available for varroa mites
  • What Sagili’s lab is doing this upcoming year at Oregon State University

“Oregon is not a great place to raise queens, but I think between the window of June through August, it’s a good time raise your own queens here.” – Dr. Ramesh Sagili

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Mimi Jenkins on PolliNation with Andony Melathopoulos

Mimi Jenkins is a PhD candidate at Clemson University in wildlife biology studying how wildflowers in watermelon fields affect the diversity and crop pollination services by native bees to watermelon. Mimi works with watermelon growers in coastal and central SC as well as researchers at Clemson and the USDA Vegetable Lab in Charleston, SC. Mimi holds a Masters in Biology from the University of Akron where she studied plant-pollinator interactions in Ohio wetlands. Mimi has also worked at USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center identifying bees and other pollinators. Mimi first became fascinated with bees at the University of Pittsburgh working as an undergraduate research assistant in Tia-Lynn Ashman’s lab. In the future, Mimi hopes to continue in the field of conservation of pollinators working in urban and sustainable agriculture.

Listen in to learn about Mimi’s work studying the pollination of watermelon, and how farmers can improve their crop through cultivating pollinator systems.

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“Watermelon is one of those crops that is entirely dependent on pollinators in order to set fruit.” – Mimi Jenkins

Show Notes:

  • How watermelons rely so completely on pollination to survive
  • How much a pollinator needs to provide to fully pollinate a watermelon flower
  • When the seedless variety became popular and how that affects the process
  • How farmers plant their watermelon crop to maximize their numbers
  • How the native bees that interact with watermelon change across the US
  • What watermelon growers need to take into account with their pollinator systems
  • What Mimi is finding in her studies of pollinators in South Carolina
  • The great side effects of having flower strips for pollinators
  • Which flowers brought the greatest diversity in Mimi’s experience

“We don’t need to be spraying herbicides everywhere to clear all the weedy flowers that are naturally there; we can use those areas to provide that additional resource for pollinators. ” – Mimi Jenkins

Links Mentioned:

  • Connect with Mimi Jenkins at her website
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Ron Miksha on PolliNation with Andony Melathopoulos

Ron has worked with honey bees since childhood, producing a million pounds of honey and thousands of queens and packages. He has had bee farms in Pennsylvania, Florida, Saskatchewan, and Alberta and has migrated bees for pollination in the eastern USA. His comb honey farm in southern Alberta produced 50,000 comb sections a year. Presently, Ron is teaching beekeeping and bee economics and he is studying ecology at the University of Calgary. In his free time, Ron writes about bees, science, society, and comb honey production in bee journals, magazines, and on his bad beekeeping blog. Ron is kept in Calgary by his wife, two teenagers, and a couple of backyard beehives.

Listen in to learn the evolution of migratory beekeepers since the 1970’s, and why Ron believes that our current pollination system isn’t sustainable.

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“We can do more with fewer acres by using the honeybees, and they’re being provided by commercial beekeepers.” – Ron Miksha

Show Notes:

  • How Ron got started in beekeeping and crop pollination
  • How pollination’s role with beekeepers has changed since Ron started
  • Why it paid so differently on different coasts in the early days of pollination
  • How American infrastructure development helped early migratory beekeepers and pollinators
  • Why the economy’s rising inflation led to a larger almond crop
  • Why farmers initially needed so much convincing that they needed pollinators for their crops
  • How migratory bees have single-handedly changed the almond crop in California for the better
  • What the key crops for beekeepers were and what they are now
  • How migratory beekeeping is hard on the bees
  • Why the new opportunities for beekeepers is also often extremely difficult for them
  • The risks and advantages of being a migratory beekeeper
  • The future of migratory beekeeping and why Ron thinks it is not currently sustainable
  • How new innovation in agriculture may prove pollinators to be obsolete

“My father said, ‘you’ve got a drivers license and three hundred hives of bees, go do it’.” – Ron Miksha

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Pollinator Week on PolliNation with Andony Melathopoulos

Eleven years ago the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of a week in June as “National Pollinator Week” marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week has now grown into an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.

With it being literally a month away, PolliNation caught up with Kelly Rourke of the organization that has been organizing National Pollinator Week across the US (Pollinator Partnership (P2)), Kelly Rourke.

Kelly is Pollinator Partnership’s (P2) Senior Program Manager, who not only manages National Pollinator Week, but also North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) and P2 grants and scholarships. Kelly has loved nature, in all its capacities, since she was a young girl growing up in upstate New York. Now settled in San Francisco, she has been able to explore and appreciate a very different environment. Kelly holds an undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies and a minor in Anthropology from the University of California at Santa Cruz. She has also received a Master’s of Science in Environmental Management (Ecology Concentration) from the University of San Francisco. Her background in ecology, conservation, and culture has propelled her career in the non-profit sector. Prior to Pollinator Partnership (P2), Kelly worked at another bay area-based environmental non-profit called Conservacion Patagonica (CP). CP’s mission is to establish national parks in Chile and Argentina where there is not only fragile ecosystems, but also, complex cultural and societal struggles.

Listen in to learn about National Pollinator Week, how the Pollinator Partnership helps the world’s pollinator populations, and how you can take part.

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“Protect their lives, preserve ours.” – Kelly Rourke

Show Notes:

  • How National Pollinator Week got started
  • When national news about pollinators spurned positive action in our government
  • What National Pollinator Week is looking to accomplish with the public
  • How Kelly believes we all can help the world of pollinators
  • What Pollinator Partnership does for the world’s pollinator population
  • What makes a good National Pollinator Week event
  • The upcoming documentary film Pollinator Partnership is releasing
  • What resources the Pollinator Partnership offers for everyone to help the cause

“Pollinator Partnership creates a wide array of materials to show people how they’re connected to pollinators and resources to get them involved.” – Kelly Rourke

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OSU Research Retinue on PolliNation with Andony Melathopoulos

OSU Research Retinue on PolliNation with Andony Melathopoulos

The OSU Research Retinue reviews a research study that garnered a fair amount of press this month on the connection between lawn mowing frequency and bee abundance and diversity. The study, led by Susannah Lerman from USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, compared the bees visiting lawns mowed weekly, every two or three weeks. The two year study was published in the May issue of the journal Biological Conservation.

This week’s Research Retinue consisted of OSU undergraduates Addison DeBoer (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology), Matthew Bucy (Environmental Sciences) and Umayyah Wright (Environmental Sciences). Special thanks to Isabella Messer (Horticulture) who helped the group research the paper (check out Isabella’s bee blog entries).

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The OSU Research Retinue (counter-clockwise): Isabella Messer, Matthew Bucy, Umayyah Wright and Addison Deboer.

“I feel the general public won’t have time to read this paper and it would be great to have a simple message summarizing the findings on social media”. – Umayyah Wright

“So, say you are approached by someone – walking on the street – and they heard about the article but have no time to read it what would you tell them the one important take away of this paper?” – Matthew Bucy

“Don’t go for more that three weeks without mowing your lawn because the grass will get too long for the bees, which almost the opposite of the final line of the paper of taking the “lazy lawnmower” approach.  But mowing once a week had more species richness and mowing twice a week had more bee abundance compared to mowing the lawn every three weeks”. – Addison DeBoer

Show Notes:

  • How the study was conducted and what was measured
  • What the study found was best for bee populations in lawn maintenance
  • What key elements are most important in increasing and maintaining pollinator health
  • How researchers can improve the study for next time, and what they got right
  • Why homeowners should consider changing their mowing habits to better suit pollinator health
  • Why this study is very important for busy homeowners
  • What people without lawns can do to help the local pollinator habitat
  • Which is more important: bee richness or bee abundance
  • What the Research Retinue would improve in the next study similar to this one

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Heather Higo on PolliNation with Andony Melathopoulos

Heather began working with honey bees in 1987 at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in British Columbia, Canada and completed a Master’s degree in bee research under Mark Winston. On completion she took on the position of SFU bee research coordinator, managing the university’s honey bee colonies and bee research lab, and mentoring students until the lab closed. In 2007, Heather began running a small queen rearing operation in Langley, British Columbia, Canada and continued in the bee community giving talks and teaching queen rearing and IPM workshops in the Fraser Valley while also working in Plant Health for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). In 2011, CFIA assigned her to work on the Bee IPM Project with University of British Columbia (UBC) and Agriculture Canada to improve honey bee mite and disease resistance through breeding and testing. After a short time back at CFIA, in 2015 Heather returned to bee research with UBC as the BC Field Manager for the Marker Selection and Beeomics projects, where she led a team sampling and testing colonies throughout BC as part of a five-province effort to develop new technological tools to enhance our breeding selection capabilities and improve the bee industry. In 2017 she was awarded the prestigious Fred Rathje Award by the Canadian Honey Council for her years of service to Canadian beekeepers. Heather is currently working for UBC on queen selection tools and other research projects in addition to rearing queens.

Listen in to learn more about how you can get started rearing your own queens, the many facets of it’s preparation, and Heather’s tips in getting started.

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“Basically you can rear queens with one queenright, a queen starter colony, and a few mating nucs, so it doesn’t have to be atrociously expensive.” – Heather Higo

Show Notes:

  • What Beemasters is and who it’s for
  • Why people go to the trouble of rearing their own queens
  • Why the preparation of queen rearing is so crucial
  • How to get past the daunting task of grafting
  • Some of the specialized tools you need to start rearing your own queens
  • The general timeline of queen rearing
  • Why separating the different queens is so important
  • What are typically the first days of life for a new queen
  • What to do if you end up with extra queens

“A calendar is really important with queen rearing. You need to be organized, you need to have a calendar, and you need to know what’s happening on what day.” – Heather Higo

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