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USDA/NIFA Research Project

Beekeepers at research hives

Improving Bee Health: Combining Crop Production and Conservation

Between 2017 and 2019 our team conducted an integrated research and extension project to improve the health of honey bees and wild bees in agroecosystems. Our overall hypothesis was that bees can thrive in landscapes committed to annual crops by addressing three sources of stress: insecticides, forage availability, and pathogen exposure. Bees forage on many annual crops when in bloom, increasing their risk of insecticide exposure. When these crops stop blooming, limited alternative forage is available. Native, perennial habitat (e.g. prairie) can provide abundant floral resources for bees at crop senescence time. Our work suggests high quantity and quality forage can improve bee health, even in the face of insecticide and pathogen stress. We also sought to determine if reducing insecticide use via IPM, combined with moving honey bees to prairies after crop bloom, can rescue them from potential negative impacts of agricultural intensification. Because honey bees may compete with or transmit pathogens to wild bees, conservationists may resist using prairie for beekeeping. Therefore, we investigated the effects of keeping hives, in both crops and prairies, on wild bee health indicators. This work was be accomplished through on-farm, landscape-scale experiments, lab studies, and measurements of numerous bee health indicators. We implemented our research results into solutions through an in-depth extension program, eventually developing the ISU Bee Program, reaching out to multiple stakeholder groups. By incorporating survey information on stakeholder attitudes, practices, and responses to our research, and collaborating with key governmental and industry partners, we have the information necessary to develop recommendations to address pollinator decline and bridge gaps between farmers, beekeepers and conservationists.

Experimental design diagram

For more information about this project, check out this video created in partnership with ISU IPM. Analyzed data from this research from this project will be soon be published in multiple papers.

This project was carried out with funds from USAID/NIFA. The research team included, Dr. Amy Toth, Dr. Matt O'Neal, Dr. Ashley St. Clair, Dr. Harmen Hendriksma, Dr. Adam Dolezal, Randall Cass, and a field team of undergraduate students.