GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Researchers with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are part of a team awarded $1.7 million for the first year of a national crop pollination research and outreach project.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the grant to Michigan State University. Over the five-year life of the $9.1 million grant, UF/IFAS entomology researcher Jamie Ellis said he expects UF will receive about $700,000.
The project will focus on improving specialty crop yields and profit by supporting both wild and managed bees, and it is part of the USDA’s $101 million initiative on behalf of the nation’s specialty crop producers.
In Florida’s case, the specialty crops to be studied include watermelon and blueberries, Ellis said.
There are more than 310 bee species in Florida, including native and “managed” species, the latter including honeybees.
During the project, researchers will identify factors that affect bee abundance, evaluate farm and habitat management practices so growers can best enhance bee populations, and develop and test native bee populations that could become managed in the future. They will then ensure that the findings are shared with specialty crop growers.
Farmers often rent honeybee colonies, and have them brought in during key periods to pollinate crops. But their availability can be limited, Ellis said, so one area the researchers hope to study is whether native species can be used in an integrative manner to increase the pollination and yield of Florida’s specialty crops.
“We hope the results from this project will allow us to tell farmers what they can do to increase the pollination contributions made by native bees in their area,” he said. “That will include telling farmers what native wildflowers can be planted near their crops to attract and enhance native bee pollinator populations.”
Finding alternative pollinators could be critical for growers, Ellis said, especially as Colony Collapse Disorder continues to threaten honeybee populations around the United States.
“There are over 310 bee species in Florida, and only one of those is the honeybee,” he said. “Many of the other bee species likely contribute significantly to the production of specialty crops in Florida. Our study aims to maximize the contributions made by these other bee species.”
Writer: Mickie Anderson, 352-273-3566, email@example.com
Source: Jamie Ellis, 352-273-3924, firstname.lastname@example.org