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MSU Researchers Study Ways to Enhance Pollinators’ Habitat

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A team of Michigan State University entomologists will use a new grant close to $1 million to study pollinators and to engage with key stakeholders in four regions of the state. The primary goal is to expand and enhance habitat for honey bees, wild bees and monarch butterflies, and to disseminate best management practices for pollinator conservation in agricultural landscapes.

The funding has been awarded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The project will be led by MSU entomologist Rufus Isaacs, collaborating with colleagues in the Department of Entomology, with MSU Extension educators and a wide range of stakeholders.

“The challenges faced by honey bees, wild bees and other flower-visiting insects threaten our food security,” said Isaacs. “Addressing this in Michigan is of particular importance. The state is home to a significant honey bee industry that provides local and national pollination services and honey production, and Michigan is a leader in fruit and vegetable production, which depends on these insects for pollination.”

The team is taking a broad approach, with the following activities planned:

  • Exploring trends in bee populations by resampling sites that were sampled up to 60 years ago
  • Optimizing pollinator habitat to improve the health of honey bees, wild bees and monarch butterflies in farmland
  • Informing optimal locations for future investment in habitat for pollinators through landscape modeling
  • Extending best management practices for pollinator health

The research team also includes Meghan Milbrath, Doug Landis, Zsofia Szendrei, Julianna Wilson, Larry Gut and Angie Zhang. They will continue collaborating with the bee taxonomy expert Jason Gibbs who recently left MSU for a faculty position at the University of Manitoba. Working through the newly formed Pollinator Work Group within MSU Extension, this team will connect with stakeholders across the state to develop regionally relevant teams that can help implement the project’s findings into the local landscapes.

“This team brings together unique strengths in apiculture, specialty crop and field crop systems, bee taxonomy, landscape ecology and spatial modeling,” said Isaacs. “This project will allow us to expand upon our efforts over the past decade to address high priority issues of pollinator health.”

In the last 10 years, American beekeepers have lost a high proportion of their colonies every winter with the Midwest consistently recording some of the highest losses. This is attributed to a combination of factors – pests and pathogens, pesticides and habitat reduction.

Additionally, eastern populations of the monarch butterfly have recently plummeted to less than 20 percent of its long-term average. Several factors are attributed to the reduction including loss of overwintering habitat, increased pathogen incidence and native milkweed declines.

  • Holly Whetstone via AgBioResearch website

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