Aspiring for Better Pollination
We can expect some exciting research to emerge from the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI).
And UC Davis pollination ecologist Neal Williams, an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology, is a part it.
Williams and postdoctoral fellow Claire Brittain of the Williams lab will be participating in the SCRI's annual team and advisory committee meeting, to be held Jan. 17-19 in Gainesville, Fla.
Williams is a co-project director of Aspire Project: Augmenting Specialty Crop Pollination Through Integrated Research and Education for Bees, a coordinated agricultural project funded by SCRI. Williams serves as the project leader for habitat enhancement for bees and a co-leader of a project seeking alternative managed bees for almonds.
The meeting will be the first “all-hands-on-deck” meeting to discuss plans for the first field season; to coordinate collection and curation techniques; and to obtain feedback from the Advisory Committee Tentative Plan, according to Rufus Isaacs, berry crops entomology Extension specialist at Michigan State University, Lansing, Mich.
Isaacs directs the Aspire Project for Bees and is the principal investigator of the $1.6-million SCRI grant. (See news release.)
In addition to Williams, the co-project directors are Theresa Pitts-Singer, research entomologist, USDA-ARS Pollinating Insects Research Unit, Department of Biology. Logan, Utah; Mace Vaughan, pollinator program director, Xerces Society, Portland, Ore; and Mark Lubell, Sociology of Sustainability, UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy.
Project Team members are investigating the performance, economics, and farmer perceptions of different pollination strategies in various fruit and vegetable crops. These include complete reliance on honey bees, farm habitat manipulation to enhance suitability for bees, and use of managed native bees alone or in combination with honey bees. The Project Team has a strong outreach focus, said Isaacs, and will deliver its findings to specialty crop agriculture through various diverse routes of traditional and new media, including the Aspire website.
“Our long-term goal is to develop and deliver context-specific Integrated Crop Pollination (ICP) recommendations on how to most effectively harness the potential of native bees for crop pollination,” says Isaacs on the Aspire website. “We define ICP as: the combined use of different pollinator species, habitat augmentation, and crop management practices to provide reliable and economical pollination of crops. This approach is analogous to Integrated Pest Management in that we aim to provide decision-support tools to reduce risk and improve returns through the use of multiple tactics tailored to specific crops and situations. By developing context-specific ICP programs, this project will improve sustainability of U.S. specialty crops and thereby help ensure the continued ability of growers to reap profitable returns from their investments in land, plants, and other production inputs.”
The project objectives are five-fold:
- to identify economically valuable pollinators and the factors affecting their abundance.
- to develop habitat management practices to improve crop pollination.
- to determine performance of alternative managed bees as specialty crop pollinators.
- to demonstrate and deliver ICP practices for specialty crops.
- to determine optimal methods for ICP information delivery and measure ICP adoption
Two other UC-affiliated scientists are involved with the Aspire program: Karen Klonsky, Cooperative Extension specialist with the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics; and Claire Kremen, pollination ecologist and professor at UC Berkeley.
All hands on deck!
The blue orchard bee or BOB (Osmia) is being studied as an alternative pollinator. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Pollination ecologist Neal Williams working on an Osmia project last summer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)