Insect pollinators are essential to U.S. growers of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Honey bees are the premier managed pollinators of most crops, accounting for $11.7 billion of the $15 billion of agricultural output attributable to insect-mediated pollination.
Since the mid-2000s, beekeepers have consistently suffered annual honey bee colony losses of 31-46%. Current management tools are costly and may not be sufficient to indefinitely sustain the honey bee colony numbers or strength needed for pollination. The consequences of inaction are decreased yields and quality of fruits and vegetables, and potentially higher produce prices. The causes of honey bee and pollinator declines in the U.S. are varied, complex, and involve many stressors.
Funded by USDA and others, Penn State University leads a multi-institutional research team. Partners include Purdue University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Wisconsin, University of California – Davis, and others. The team developed Beescape, a new online tool and community to support bees and to help beekeepers understand what resources and risks bees may encounter when they leave the hive.
Beescape enables researchers to partner with beekeepers and gardeners to gather information about the health of their bees. For example, Beescape allows a user to select a specific location and get information about the surrounding area, the amount and type of applied insecticide, and the availability of nesting habitat for wild bees. This partnership has generated data so that they can better calculate how these landscape-quality scores translate to bees’ health outcomes. The collaboration protects pollinators, our fruit and vegetable supply, and farmers’ profits.