AFRI in ACTION: Protecting Pollinators

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Protecting PollinatorsOne in every three bites of our food relies on pollinators, yet they are in jeopardy. Last year alone, beekeepers lost about 40 percent of their colonies. However, it has been hard to know the reasons because of a lack of hard data. In this search for answers, the work of Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp at the University of Maryland (UMD) may hold the key. Through a five-year grant from USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), Dr. vanEngelsdorp and a coalition of researchers from other universities are applying methods developed by human epidemiologists to bees. The “Bee Informed Partnership” surveys thousands of commercial and private beekeepers nationwide on the health of their colonies and their management practices. The result is a treasure trove of data that reveals the types of correlations needed to generate solutions. Their work is making an impact. It has inspired the addition of regular bee surveys from NASS, shaped the White House’s recent Pollinator Research Action Plan, and driven much-needed attention to bee losses within the media. The AFRI grant also supported the launch of “tech transfer teams” that are partnering with over 80 commercial beekeepers nationally who collectively manage over 400,000 colonies. These teams help beekeepers send monthly samples from colonies to UMD’s bee lab which provides, in just 10 days, actionable information on the health of their colonies and how their performance compares with others within the program. The tech teams can also implement “emergency response kits” to help determine the causes of sudden, high mortality.

“Our work would not have been possible without AFRI support. Because we were able to get that first tech transfer team off the ground, we learned how to develop the more effective and less expensive model that we’re now using nationally.” – Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp

Those enrolled in the tech transfer team program have seen significant declines in losses. As a result, teams have been formed in Florida, Minnesota, Oregon, Hawaii, and Texas through a mixture of public, private, and corporate funding in addition to the California team envisioned in the original AFRI proposal. Dr. vanEngelsdorp now plans to apply for another AFRI grant to take the Bee Informed Partnership’s data analysis to the next level by examining the impacts of various combined management practices on bees. His team’s goal will be the development of new recommendations for protecting one of the linchpins of our food system.

Photo: Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp shows UMD honey bee lab staff how to install package bees. (University of Maryland)