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
- 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
- Learn more about Dr. Peterson’s research on mosquitoes and alfalfa leafcutting bees
- Great youtube video summaries of Dr. Peterson’s research are available at the Comparative Biological Risk Assessment youtube channel.
- Check out Dr. Peterson’s recommendations:
- Favorite Book: The Secret Life of Flies (Erica McAlister, 2017)
- Favorite Tool: Elastic bands (to keep flying leafcutting bees out of your armpits)
- Favorite Pollinator: Flower flies (Family Syrpidae)
- Connect with Dr. Bob Peterson at Montana State University