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Posts Tagged: Neal Williams

It's Crunch Time: Almond Conference Dec. 9-11

Eric Mussen
It's crunch time.

Officials organizing the 42nd annual Almond Conference are gearing up for their three-day event, which takes place Tuesday, Dec. 9 through Thursday, Dec. 11 in the Sacramento Convention Center.

In a message to the attendees, Richard Waycott, president and CEO of the Almond Board of California (ABC), says the industry is facing unprecedented challenges, as California's severe drought continues.

The agenda encompasses a variety of topics, including

  • "State of the Industry"
  • "Almond Quality: Everything You Want to Know About Retaining Almond Crunch and Flavor"
  • "Pest Management Update and Sampling: Insects and Weeds"
  • "Exporter Overview: Regulations Keep on Coming"
  • "Digital and Traditional Media Outreach Techniques"
  • "Pollination Update"
  • "Research Grant Topics and Speakers"

Frank Zalom
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will be represented by Frank Zalom, distinguished professor and integrated pest management specialist (he just finished a term as president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America); Neal Williams, associate professor; and Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen.

Zalom and Williams will discuss their ABC-funded research while Mussen will address honey bee issues. In addition, Mussen will be honored at the Dec. 10 noon luncheon for his 38 years of service to the almond/bee industries. He retired in June.

Mussen will be among the four speakers at the Pollination Update on Thursday morning, Dec. 11. Others are Dennis vanEngelsdorp, University of Maryland; Gabriele Ludwig, ABC; Christi Heintz of Project Apis m; and Gordon Wardell of Paramount Farming.  Bob Curtis of ABC will moderate.

They will expand on this text (from the agenda): "Bees, along with other pollinators, have consistently been in the media, particularly in the past two years. Almonds, as the largest user of pollination services, are often mentioned as possibly impacted by compromised honey bee health. Are almond growers doing everything possible to ensure that almonds are a good and safe place for honey bees? This session will provide an overview of the research and issues affecting honey bee health, how ABC has and continues to be engaged in this issue and an introduction to the updated best management practices for honey bees in California almonds."

Neal Williams
That afternoon, research takes front and center in a panel moderated by Gabriele Ludwig of ABC. For more than 40 years, ABC's research programs have advanced yields, quality, and environmental stewardship, contributing to the growth and success of the industry, Ludwig points out. ABC-funded research has helped "to identify areas of opportunity and success through all parts of the growing life cycle."

Researchers will discuss their ongoing projects:

  • "Insect and Mite Research," Frank Zalom, UC Davis
  • "Pheromone and Host Plant Volatiles for Navel Orangeworm Monitoring," Ring Cardé, UC Riverside
  • "Host Plant Volatile Blend to Monitor Navel Orangeworm Populations," John Beck, USDA-ARS, Albany, CA
  • "Integrated Pest Management Studies," Kris Tollerup, UC Cooperative Extension IPM advisor
  • "Leaffooted and Stink Bugs in Almond," Andrea Joyce, UC Merced
  • "Honey Bee Nutrition: ProteinSupplements vs. Natural Forage," Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman, USDA-ARS, Tucson, Ariz.
  • "Assessing the Value of Supplemental Forage During Almond Pollination, Ramesh Sagili, Oregon State University
  • "Forage and Integrated Almond Pollination," Neal Williams, UC Davis
  • "Quantifying Varroa Resistance to Miticides," Dennis vanEngelsdorp, University of Maryland
  • "New Chemistries for Varroa Mite," Troy Anderson, Virginia Tech

See agenda (download PDF)

Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An almond orchard in spring of 2013 in Dixon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An almond orchard in spring of 2013 in Dixon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An almond orchard in spring of 2013 in Dixon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, December 4, 2014 at 5:50 PM

Why the Squash Bee Is Important

Katharina Ullmann in a pollinator patch. (Photo by Neal Williams)
Peponapis pruinosa isn't your common household word.

But among the people who study pollinators, it is.

Also known as a squash bee, it is an important pollinator of cultivated crops of squash, pumpkins, and others members of the genus Cucurbita.

Enter Katharina Ullmann, a graduate student in the Neal Williams lab in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at the University of California, Davis.

She researches them, studying their persistence in agricultural landscapes.

And on Wednesday, June 4, Ullmann will present a seminar on her research: "Squash Bee Persistence in Agricultural Landscapes: the Role of Connectivity and Disturbance" from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, located off Kleiber Hall Drive. This is the last in the series of spring seminars hosted by the department.

"It is well documented that wild native bees can benefit many crops through increased seed and fruit set, thus providing sustainable pollination alternatives in cases of honey bee decline and increased honey bee rental prices," Ullmann says.  "Yet, it is unclear how to best manage crop systems to support wild native bees. Research on enhancing wild native bees has historically focused on field border management. However, to ensure the sustainability of a crop-pollination system, a comprehensive approach should also include within field practices."

"Promoting a whole-farm pollinator management strategy is especially important given that agricultural intensification is associated with practices that negatively impact wild native bees. Whole-farm strategies may provide effective alternatives for growers who are slow to adopt resource-intensive, border-management practices. The proposed project will contribute to our understanding of these strategies by determining the impact of tillage practices and crop rotations on a ground-nesting, native bee that is an important pollinator in a specialty crop system."

Ullmann said that Cucurbita crops (including squash and pumpkin) rely on pollinators to set fruit. "The specialist squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, is an important pollinator of Cucurbita and can reduce grower reliance on rented honey bee colonies. In-field management is particularly relevant for this species given that it nests preferentially below its host's vines. I will use observational surveys and manipulative experiments to identify crop rotation schemes and tillage practices that benefit P. pruinosa. These results provide insights into how species persist in agricultural landscapes, with an emphasis on the roles of connectivity and disturbance."

Ullmann, who expects to receive her doctorate in entomology in September 2014, researches population persistence in dynamic landscapes, and on-farm beneficial insect habitat enhancements. Her interests also include supporting citizen science, translating research related to pollinator conservation and encouraging dialogue between researchers and farmers.

She developed a native bee YouTube channel aimed at providing a direct line of communication between university researchers, farmers and the general public. In addition, she developed the blog Pollinator Farm and associated social media handles on Twitter and Facebook.

Ullmann's seminar on June 4 is to be video-recorded for later posting on UCTV.

Squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, on a squash blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, on a squash blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, on a squash blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, is a specialist, pollinating only the Cucurbita genus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, is a specialist, pollinating only the Cucurbita genus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, is a specialist, pollinating only the Cucurbita genus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, June 2, 2014 at 10:09 PM

Here's the Buzz That Might Change How We Think

Talk about a good insurance policy.

Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) just published an article in the Journal of Applied Ecology that indicates that blueberry growers who invest in nearby wildflower habitat to attract and support wild bees can increase their crop yields.  They're saying that the cost of planting a habitat for wild bees can pay for itself in four years or less.

"Other studies have demonstrated that creating flowering habitat will attract wild bees, and a few have shown that this can increase yields," MSU entomologist and co-author Rufus Isaacs said in a press release. "This is the first paper that demonstrates an economic advantage. This gives us a strong argument to present to farmers that this method works, and it puts money back in their pockets." 

"This is HUGE news," said pollination ecologist Neal Williams, associate professor of entomology at UC Davis, who was not involved in the study.  "This is the first study to quantify pollination benefit as a result of habitat planting adjacent crops.  It also works through the economics of the implementation of the the habitat and accrued economic and yield benefit over time.  Fantastic stuff."

This is right up Willilams' alley, er, hedge row. He and his colleagues are exploring the role of wild native bees, honey bees and other managed species as crop pollinators and the effects of landscape composition and local habitat quality on their persistence. His research on pollination spans the disciplines of conservation biology, behavioral ecology and evolution. One of his primary research foci is on sustainable pollination strategies for agriculture. This work is critical given ongoing pressures facing managed honey bees and reported declines in important native pollinators such as bumble bees. 

Williams' research has taken him from eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey to California's Central Valley.  "A continuing goal is to provide practical information that can be used to improve the long-term stability of pollination for agriculture in California, as well as promote pollinator conservation and management," Williams says.  In addition to work in agriculture, he is also studying how habitat restoration affects pollinator communities and pollination.  

Earlier California studies, involving Clare Kremen of UC Berkeley, Neal Williams and other colleagues, showed that wild bees make honey bees better pollinators; that is, the presence of wild bees makes the honey bees work harder.

Regarding the MSU study, the research team planted surrounding bueberry fields with a mix of 15 native perennial wildflowers, hoping to increase the wild bee population and thus improve pollination in the blueberry fields. 

And yes, that's exactly what happened. 

"In the first two years as the plantings established, we found little to no increase in the number of wild bees," Isaacs related in the press release  "After that, though, the number of wild bees was twice as high as those found in our control fields that had no habitat improvements."

To quote from the press release: "Once the wild bees were more abundant, more flowers turned into blueberries, and the blueberries had more seeds and were larger. Based on the results, a two-acre field planted with wildflowers adjacent to a 10-acre field of blueberries boosted yields by 10-20 percent. This translated into more revenue from the field, which can recoup the money from planting wildflowers."

Isaacs was quick to point out that the researchers are not suggesting that growers cease using honey bees for pollination services.  But with 420 species of wild bees in Michigan alone, he says, it makes sense to attract the "free" wild bees. Indeed, it does.

This study could have major implications for not only research in California, but nationwide.

An Osmia (family Megachilidae) pollinating a flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An Osmia (family Megachilidae) pollinating a flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An Osmia (family Megachilidae) pollinating a flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The blue orchard bee, Osmia lignaria, is one of the bees that Neal Williams' lab is studying. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The blue orchard bee, Osmia lignaria, is one of the bees that Neal Williams' lab is studying. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The blue orchard bee, Osmia lignaria, is one of the bees that Neal Williams' lab is studying. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of Osmia lignaria  on phacelia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of Osmia lignaria on phacelia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of Osmia lignaria on phacelia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, April 7, 2014 at 9:59 PM

When Bees Get in Trouble

Maryann Frazier (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
"Bees are incredibly good at picking up what's in their environment."

So said Senior Extension Associate Maryann Frazier of Penn State when she addressed the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's seminar last Wednesday, April 2 in Briggs Hall.

Frazier, on a trip to California to discuss her research with the Marin County Beekeepers, took time out to travel to the UC Davis campus at the invitation of Master Beekeeper/writer Mea McNeil of the Marin County Beekeepers and associate professor Neal Williams and assistant professor Brian Johnson of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Frazier, a 25-year extension specialist, expressed concern about the pesticide loads that bees are carrying, as well as the declining population of bees and other pollinators.

Beekeepers, she said, used to be much more concerned about colony collapse disorder (CCD), that mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult honey bees abandoning the hive, leaving the queen bee, brood and food stores behind.  CCD surfaced in the winter of 2006, but today, when beekeepers report their winter losses, "they're not blaming CCD any more," she said. 

Frazier listed the prime suspects of troubled bees as poor nutrition, mites, genetics, stress, pesticides, nosema and viruses. "Varroa mites are a huge issue," Frazier said.

Turning to pesticides, she said a 2007-2010 U.S. analysis of some 1000 samples  (wax, bees and flowers) showed "an astonishing average of six pesticides per sample and up to 31 different pesticides per sample." The analysis, done by U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service Lab (USDA/AMS) screened for 171 pesticides at parts per billion. The samples involved a CCD study, apple orchard study, migratory study and submissions from individual beekeepers.  

Frazier compared the interaction of pesticides in bees to the interaction of medications in humans. When you go to the doctor, you'll be asked the names of the medications you're taking, she said.  The "interaction" situation is similar to what's happening with the honey bees.

In a bee colony, lethal exposures to pesticides are easy to see, Frazier noted. "You'll see dead bees, bees spinning on their backs and bees regurgitating." But the sub-lethal effects can mean "reduced longevity, reduced memory and learning, reduced immune function and poor orientation."

Marin County Beekeepers recently undertook a similar study of pesticide analysis, raising $12,000 to do so ($300 per sample). "Marin is very mindful of pesticides, probably more than any other place," Frazier said. McNeil agreed. The results are pending publication.

"If we truly want to protect our pollinators," Frazier concluded, "three things need to be addressed or changed:

  • Beekeeper reliance on chemicals and drugs to manage mites and diseases
  • Pest control practices, particularly agricultural land
  • The approach of more regulatory agences assessing risk and protecting the environment"

As the seminar participants left Briggs Hall, many could be heard discussing the take-home message: "average of six pesticides per sample, up to 31 pesticides per sample."

A queen bee and her colony at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A queen bee and her colony at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A queen bee and her colony at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Maryann Frazier with the list of 171 pesticides screened in the U.S. survey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Maryann Frazier with the list of 171 pesticides screened in the U.S. survey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Maryann Frazier with the list of 171 pesticides screened in the U.S. survey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, April 4, 2014 at 8:57 PM

Go Native! Be a Native Bee 'Beekeeper'

Leafcutter bees at their condo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If you're yearning to be a backyard beekeeper, "go native."

"Go native" with native bees, that is.

Many folks are building or buying bee condos to provide nesting sites for blue orchard bees (Osmia lignaria)  and leafcutting bees (Megachile spp.).

A bee condo is a block of wood drilled with specially sized holes for nesting sites. Bees lay their eggs, provision the nests, and then plug the holes. Months later, the offspring will emerge. 

In our backyard, we provide bee condos for BOBs (short for blue orchard bee) and leafcutter bees. 

In the summer it's fun watching the leafcutter bees snip leaves from our shrubbery and carry them back to their bee condo.   It's easy to tell the nesting sites apart: BOB holes are larger and plugged with mud, while the leafcutter bee holes are smaller and plugged with leaves. 

Osmia lignaria, a native species of North America, is sold commercially for use in orchard crop pollination. 

At the Bohart Museum of Entomology Open House on Sunday, March 2, native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology, displayed a variety of bee houses. 

If you want to learn how to build them or where to buy them, Thorp has kindly provided a list of native bee nesting site resources on the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility website. You can also purchase them at many beekeeping supply stores. (Also check out the Xerces Society's website information.)

Better yet, if you'd like to learn more about native bees and their needs, be sure to register online for the Pollinator Gardening Workshop on Saturday, March 15 on the UC Davis campus. Hosted by the California Center for Urban Horticulture, it begins at 7:30 a.m. in Room 1001 of Giedt Hall and ends at 2 p.m. with a plant sale at the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery and a tour of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. For the small fee of $40 you'll receive a continental breakfast and box lunch and return home with an unbee-lievable wealth of knowledge. Speakers will include several honey bee and native bee experts: native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp; pollination ecologist Neal Williams and Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen. See the complete list on the website.

You'll be hearing from Robbin, Neal and Eric, but you'll be thinking about BOB.

Leafcutting bees heading home to their condo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Leafcutting bees heading home to their condo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Leafcutting bees heading home to their condo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, shows Danielle Wishon of the California Department of Food and Agriculture a bee condo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, shows Danielle Wishon of the California Department of Food and Agriculture a bee condo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, shows Danielle Wishon of the California Department of Food and Agriculture a bee condo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Blue orchard bees on display at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Blue orchard bees on display at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Blue orchard bees on display at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of bee nesting sites shown March 2 at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of bee nesting sites shown March 2 at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of bee nesting sites shown March 2 at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 9:24 PM

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