July 6, 2011
Each grinning jack-o’-lantern starts with yellow pollen grains, ferried from a male to a female pumpkin flower by bees. Honeybee populations are in decline, but Cornell entomologist Brian Nault has identified the eastern bumblebee as the best native pollinator, capable of boosting pumpkin yields and profits for New York growers.
“I was intrigued by honeybee colony collapse disorder and interested in the potential contribution of native bees for picking up the slack in vegetable crops like pumpkin that require pollinators,” said Nault, associate professor of entomology. “We found that the common eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) was not only the most effective native pollinator for pumpkins, but that supplementing small pumpkin fields with bumblebee colonies significantly increased the number of pumpkins produced per plant.”
Pumpkins are big business in New York state: The 2010 crop was valued at $35 million, the highest in the nation. Nearly half of all vegetable farms in New York, which occupy 6,650 acres, grow pumpkins.
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