Dr. Rufus Isaacs (Dept. of Entomology, Michigan State University) and collaborators are currently working on a USDA-NIFA funded project investigating pollinator health in Michigan. This project came about because of increasing concern over documented declines in honey bees, wild bees, and other pollinators. Declines in pollinator populations have been reported around the world, but the Great Lakes region has been of specific concern due to loss of natural habitat.
Below, Koh and colleagues (2016) estimate the status of wild bee abundance across the country. Their results indicate that the Midwest is particularly bad for wild bees.
Low wild bee abundance is particularly concerning in this region due to the importance of agriculture. Michigan agriculture adds $91.4 billion to the state's annual economy, and MI agriculture is the second most diverse in the country (only topped by California). Many of the specialty crops rely on pollination services provided by diverse pollinators, as well as honey bees, in order to produce profitable yields.
Because of the concerns around pollinator decline, our project aims to document historic patterns of bee diversity and abundance in Michigan, and compare them to current measurements. This will allow us to determine if bee communities have changed. Additionally, we are sampling pollinators across diverse landscapes, which allows us to identifying potential sources of pollinator decline, such as land use or pesticide exposure. It also allows us to set a baseline for documenting improvements in the pollinator community going forward - a vital step in evaluating conservation efforts.
We are also measuring the health of managed bees - honey bees and bumble bees. Managed bees are an irreplaceable part of our agricultural system, with a particularly important role in Michigan. Here, managed bees are used for specialty crops such as blueberry, apple, cherry, and cucumber. But managed bees have been facing recent health problems from disease, poor nutrition, and/or pesticide exposure. This project aims to identify stressors in Michigan, and provide recommendations to improve bee health.
Monarch butterflies have also received a lot of attention recently, as their populations have dropped to ~20% of their historic abundance. Our team is investigating how to create the most beneficial habitats for monarch conservation in Michigan. With restored monarch habitat, we can help to restore the population.
Finally, the goals of this project are to provide recommendations to agricultural and conservation stakeholders for how to improve pollinator habitat and health.
Meet the team:
1. Rufus Isaacs - the Principal Investigator on the project. Dr. Isaacs is a Professor and Extension Specialist in the Entomology Department at MSU. Dr. Isaacs studies the pests, natural enemies, and pollinators associated with perennial fruit crops.
2. Doug Landis - Distinguished Professor in the Entomology Department at MSU. Dr. Landis studies the influence of landscape structure on insect ecology and management.
3. Jason Gibbs - Assistant Professor and Curator, Wallis/Roughley Museum of Entomology at the University of Manitoba. Dr. Gibbs studies the diversity and evolution of wild bees.
4. Meghan Milbrath - Academic Specialist in the Entomology Department at MSU. Dr. Milbrath is the coordinator of the Michigan Pollinator Initiative and a honey bee and pollination specialist.
5. Larry Gut - Professor and Extension specialist in the Entomology Department at MSU. Dr. Gut researches tree fruit Integrated Pest Management (IPM) solutions.
6. Zsofia Szendrei - Associate Professor and Extension Specialist in the Entomology Department at MSU. Dr. Szendrei studies the ecology and management of arthropods that occur in vegetable production.
7. Julianna Wilson - Tree Fruit Integrator / Outreach Specialist in the Entomology Department at MSU. Dr. Wilson collaborates regionally and nationally with research and extension professionals to develop sustainable solutions for producing tree fruit in Michigan.
8. Angie Zhang - Research Associate in Dr. Isaacs' lab. Dr. Zhang specializes in spatial analysis using GIS.
9. Thomas Wood - Research Associate in Dr. Szendrei's lab. Dr. Wood is researching the effects of cover crops in pickling cucumber on honey bee health.
10. Kelsey K Graham - Research Associate in Dr. Isaacs' lab. Dr. Graham serves as a manager on this project (along with Dr. Isaacs). She also coordinates bee sampling across Michigan, as well as bumble bee colony health in blueberry.