Bees are a crucial part of our world, but there is a growing awareness that bee populations are declining. Multiple pressures contribute to bee decline, such as decreases in the amount of flowering habitat, and increased exposure to parasites, pathogens, or certain pesticides.
To combat bee declines, conservation organizations have been promoting increased use of ‘pollinator-friendly’ plants. Environmental horticulture growers are in a prime position to respond to this need, as they are key producers of the plants we use in gardens and landscaping.
Upon working closely with environmental horticulture growers, we realized they are in a quandry: the growing awareness of bee declines has increased demand for pollinator-friendly plants, but producing those plants at the desired quantity and quality invariably requires the use of pesticides. If certain pesticides harm bees, how can growers produce pollinator-friendly plants on a mass scale?
Development of Research Areas
To develop research areas for tackling this issue, the IR-4 Project’s Environmental Horticulture Program hosted a special workshop in December of 2014 with representatives from the environmental horticulture industry and scientists with a wide range of expertise. Scientists specializing in pollinator biology, environmental horticulture pests, risk assessment, product submission to EPA, chemical residue analysis, and agricultural economics, were all present. Presentations and discussions ranged from environmental horticulture grower perspectives to risk assessments to bee biology and behavior, and ultimately to designing studies to address the data gaps.
By the end of the workshop, we concluded that there is a lack of data on which environmental horticulture plants are most used by bees, what levels of various pesticides reach the nectar and pollen ingested by bees, the economics of switching to alternative (non-neonicotinoid) pesticide products, and how consumers respond to pollinator-friendly practices. In addition, we identified a need for more clear and concise information to be made available to consumers. (Hence, this website, where we will be communicating all of our findings, and providing additional materials for growers and the wider public.)
A research team formed and developed a USDA–NIFA SCRI proposal to study how it might be possible to protect both plants and pollinators at the same time.
Upon receiving generous funding from USDA-NIFA SCRI for grant 2016-51181-25399 “Protecting Pollinators with Economically Feasible and Environmentally Sound Ornamental Horticulture,” we began implementing studies across the US to address the data gaps mentioned above.