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Horticultural Pollinator Research Bearing Fruit
Bees and bee health continues to be an environmental concern


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Dr. Nancy Ostiguy of Penn State University leads a nationwide study evaluating pesticide exposure to honeybees. In the first four years of collections, fungicides were most commonly detected, as compared with insecticides and herbicides. Azoxystrobin and propiconazole were among the top three fungicides most frequently found. Varroa mite control, however, may be the most important factor in the decline of the honeybee population.


Bees and bee health continues to be an environmental concern. In early May, the Horticultural Research Institute participated in a research symposium at Penn State University where early results from several research projects relevant to pollinator health were shared.

The Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State comprises a group of 25 faculty members dedicated to studying pollinator health and conservation. The center's research projects are diverse and comprehensive, from a project using beehives to mitigate crop damage by elephants in Kenya, to developing a pollinator garden at the Flight 93 memorial site.

Several research projects impact the green industry more directly, including one on honeybee exposure to pesticides, and one on honeybee nutrition. HRI funded portions of this research through its Grow Wise, Bee Smart initiative. Pollen is a major source of protein and nutrients for honeybees. The nutrition in pollens varies widely. Butterfly bush, for example, is wildly attractive to pollinators, but it is virtually devoid of nutritional value. A large collaboration with several state researchers is looking to determine the nutritional value of plants attractive to bees. The research is in the early phases. Dr. Harland Patch of Penn State University is charged with leading the research team in the state.

A newly released, preliminary annual bee loss report from the Bee Informed Partnership reveals that winter and summer colony losses in 2015/2016 were higher than 2014/2015, but barely below the 10 year average. Winter loss was estimated around 28%, with total colony loss around 44%. These numbers are based on a survey of over 5,700 U.S. beekeepers funded by the USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Poor varroa mite control was implicated, with poor nutrition and pesticides listed as possible contributing factors. Note: Varroa mites suck the bodily fluids of honeybees (at all levels of development), and may be the single most important factor in the decline of the honeybee population. The mites also spread diseases that impact larval or pupating bees.

The Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) established the Grow Wise, Bee Smart initiative to identify and fund research to get a clearer understanding of horticulture's impact on pollinators, and to inform, design and refine an industry stewardship program.

HRI's association partner, AmericanHort, serves on the Center for Pollinator Research stakeholder advisory board. AmericanHort, in conjunction with other interested organizations such as the Society of American Florists, supported additional funding of pollinator research through Farm Bill Section 10007.

The Horticultural Research Institute, the research affiliate of AmericanHort, has provided over $7 million in funds since 1962 to research projects covering a broad range of production, environmental, and business issues in the green industry. Over $11 million is committed to the endowment. For more information about HRI, its grant-funded research, scholarships, or programming, visit www.hriresearch.org.







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