By Lisa Mason, CSU Extension Horticulture Agent
Part of the land grant university mission is to bring the latest research to our community and part of my job as an Extension Agent is to help facilitate that process. I want to share a recent experience I had on the front lines of research.
In July, I had the privilege of participating in the International Pollinator Conference in Davis, California. Researchers and land managers from all over the world gathered together to discuss the challenges facing pollinators. I was amazed to hear about the great work being done in the United Kingdom, Germany, Thailand, Australia, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Sweden, and France. While the feeling at times was hopeful and inspiring, I think all attendees recognize that more work still needs to be done to protect pollinators, which are critical to the planet’s ecosystems and human survival.
Here are some of the top areas of research and a few of my take-home messages from the conference:
- Plant diversity is critical for pollinators. Each plant has its own nutritional profile and research is still being done on what chemical compounds benefit bees.
- There are geographical gaps in bee research that need to be addressed. For example, bee diversity tends to be higher in areas where universities or research stations have sampled and studied the local areas. We are lucky in Colorado to have two universities that are conducting significant research here.
- Climate change will affect different bees in different ways. Possible effects may include shifts in their natural range, shifts in phenology (meaning changes in flower bloom times that could affect the bees), reduction in nectar and pollen yields, increases in disease outbreaks, increases in heat stress and other physiological effects, etc. Some bee species may be able to adapt better than others.
- Pesticides is a complex issue and continues to be a major theme in research. Understanding the lethal and sublethal effects of pesticides on bees and the routes of pesticide exposure will help inform best management practices in pesticide use and how to protect bees.
- Understanding how native bees and honey bees interact and coexist continues to be a new area of research. The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is a non-native species but provides important pollination services for plants, crops, etc. Honey bees also provide honey and wax. Native bees are also critical for our ecosystems and provide different pollination services, some very specialized with certain plants. For example, bumble bees pollinate tomatoes and peppers, which other bees cannot pollinate.
- Diseases and parasites were another major research area of the conference. We need to understand how diseases and parasites are transmitted from bee-to-bee so we can maintain healthier honey bee hives. Also, we need to better understand how diseases and parasites are transmitted. For example, flowers can be a place to where bee diseases can transfer. Also, we need to understand if and how diseases can transfer to different bee species.
- Citizen science continues to be a growing area of research in many fields of study, pollinators included. While many scientists continue to be apprehensive about the data accuracy, more and more research utilizes citizen scientists.
How Can You Help?
Even though there is much more research to understand pollinators, we can take actions now to help our local pollinators. The best things you can do include:
- Plant more flowers that attract pollinators
- Wildscape your yard for wildlife and pollinator habitat
- Cut your turf grass less often or remove areas of turf that do not serve a purpose
- Leave insect nest and hibernation places alone
- Think carefully and research how and when to use pesticides
- Share your science-based knowledge with your family, friends, neighbors, and community
- Participate in local classes and events to continue learning
- Learn about the benefits of adding native plants to your landscape
Local Efforts in Arapahoe County
Arapahoe County Extension has a variety of projects to help our local pollinator populations. Projects include:
- Installing a demonstration pollinator garden at the CSU Extension office at Lima Plaza. Installation begins in mid-September. The purpose of the demonstration garden will be to educate citizens about the importance of pollinators and show examples of plants that attract pollinators. The garden will be cared for by the Arapahoe County Master Gardeners.
- Demonstrating the impact of insects at the 2020 Colorado Home and Garden Show. Arapahoe County Extension will be planning and hosting the CSU gardens at the show. The theme will be Insects: The Good, The Bad, and The Bugly. Part of the exhibit will provide education on pollinators.
- Starting Native Bee Watch, a citizen science program locally. This citizen science program originally began in Fort Collins but now is expanding to the Denver Metro area. The first site in Denver was developed this summer at the Carson Nature Center. Volunteers monitored the garden once a week for bees.
- Providing classes, events, and workshops. In August, four Master Gardeners and I participated in the Parker Honey Festival, where we educated over 600 people about native bees and pollinators. In addition, I have done 20 presentations specifically on native bees and pollinators, educating nearly 700 people this year! The demand for information on pollinators is high!
- Offering CSU Extension publications. CSU Extension has factsheets and a field guide available with information on how to build habitat and attract pollinators to your landscape. Publications include:
Stay tuned on the Arapahoe County Extension website and social media for updates on all of these efforts! If you have any questions, please contact me. Looking forward to protecting pollinators with you!