New York State IPM Program

June 16, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Got the Buzz? Pollinator Week Coming Up June 20 – 26

Got the Buzz? Pollinator Week Coming Up June 20 – 26

Pollinator week — coming right up on June 20 — celebrates all pollinators. There’s honey bees, of course, but also native bees. In fact, NYS IPM-funded research has counted 104 known species alone in New York’s orchards. Of course, bees pollinate more than just orchards, and 450 species all told call New York home — including two on New York’s endangered species list. Collectively these bees contribute upward of $9 billion in pollination services to New York’s economy — and we’re not even talking the value of honey itself.

Gotta love bats, even if they don't pollinate flowers in the Northeast, They offer so many other ecosystem services. Mosquito control, for starters.

Gotta love bats, even if they don’t pollinate flowers in the Northeast, They offer so many other ecosystem services. Mosquito control, for starters.

For sure: we can’t leave out butterflies, moths, flies (think flower flies, hover flies, and more), wasps, beetles, and hummingbirds. If we lived in the Southwest, we’d be thanking bats as well.

Now, though, let’s focus on bees, since  entomologists have discovered so many cool things about how flowers attract bees  — and vice versa. Those scientists have found an array of captivating “who’d a thunk it” ways these symbiotic mutualists have evolved to do each other right.

Yet before we go down that track, a little detour — pointing you to info from NYS IPM’s “Protecting Pollinators” conference. Start with the first two: Emma Mullen’s fascinating talk and superb visuals, and Scott McArt’s tour of Cornell’s research, now in full swing.

OK, back to our symbiotic mutualists — the blossoms and the bees. Examples? Consider color. Bees don’t see red, but they do see ultraviolet. In fact, many flowers equip themselves with “come hither” ultraviolet landing platforms, landing strips, or both.

OK, bees don't see red. But gaillardia — blanket flower — has a trick up its sleeve.

OK, bees don’t see red. But gaillardia — blanket flower — has a trick up its sleeve.

And how about the electric fields wafting up from flower petals? “Everyone knows that bees buzz around flowers in their quest for nectar,” reports Marc Lallanilla at LiveScience. “But scientists have now learned that flowers are buzzing right back — with electricity.”

Gaillardia again ... with UV guidance to the goods.

Gaillardia again … with UV guidance to the goods.

Why? That electric charge advertises — you guessed it — a nectar source. On the other hand, a blossom just depleted of nectar needs to recharge its nectar reserves. So it emits a different signal, one that alerts the bees to just fly on by. After all, bees can learn. And they don’t have time to waste visiting pretty flowers if the nectar is gone. Bees might learn to ignore a flower with a reputation for false advertising (as it were) — even after the flower had topped off its tank.

And then … there’s also “buzz pollination” where flowers wait till a bee buzzes at the right frequency, then reward it with a cache of pollen. True, these flowers don’t offer free drinks (that would be nectar) as a reward. But the pollen they offer is, for some species of bees, reward enough. After all, it’s what they feed their young. Note that we said “for some species.” Bumble bees are great buzz pollinators, as are many native bees. But honey bees never learned that trick. (The science behind it ? Science Direct and Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society.)

Planting potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers (all relatives in the Solanaceae family) or pumpkins, zucchinis, and blueberries? Know that native bees are your go-to experts in buzz pollination. (If you live, say, in a high-rise with a window gardens and no access to rooftop beekeepers, you could buy a VegiBee pollinator and do it yourself.)

Of course, not every flower does any or all of the above. If you want to do right by bees, think before you plant and focus on these four things:

  • Plant for continuous bloom — pollinators don’t get down time; your garden shouldn’t either. Is your yard tiny? Try collaborating with your neighbors and think of it as yet another form of symbiotic mutualism.
  • Is this a bee-friendly flower? Example: if you love roses, plant those old-timey kinds with the simple “single” flowers. Densely clustered petals just get in the way. (While roses provide little in the way of nectar, they’ve got pollen to spare.)
  • Cluster your plants. Groups of long-blooming flowers, rather than single plants scattered here and there, offer bees a better use of their time and energy.
  • Nectar sounds juicy, but pollinators need straight-up water too. Just be sure to empty your bird feeder or plant saucer every few days. Yes, even mosquitoes pollinate flowers. But that’s not reason enough to invite them into your yard. (Float a piece of wood in the water to give bees a safe landing place.)

What to plant? Variety is the spice of life.

Trees and shrubs: oak, cherry, willow, basswood, birch, tulip poplar, crabapple, blueberry, red maple, pine, hawthorn, linden, redbud, arrowwood viburnum, chokecherry, Rhododendron canadense, spicebush, gray dogwood, serviceberry, New Jersey tea, buttonbush, summersweet, Virginia sweetspire, American witchhazel.

Perennials for sun: aster, goldenrod, sunflower, Joe Pye weed, violet (also does well in shade), hardy geranium, black-eyed Susan, iris, milkweed, penstemon, phlox, threadleaf coreopsis, bee balm, cardinal flower, mountain mint, purple coneflower, columbine, liatris.

Perennials for shade: woodland phlox, blue lobelia, jack-in-the-pulpit, indian pink, wood aster, Dutchman’s breeches, violets (also does well in sun).

Weeds: OK, so you don’t need to plant dandelions; they plant themselves. They aren’t native and some people can’t stand them. But they’re here and they provide crucial early-season food for bees.

So there you have it. You too can protect pollinators.

March 24, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on pollination potpourri: wasps, moths, flies, beetles, and oh yes … bees

pollination potpourri: wasps, moths, flies, beetles, and oh yes … bees

Let’s start with a short pre-blog quiz: which of these native insects pollinate plants?

  1. bees
  2. moths
  3. beetles
  4. all of the above — plus flies, wasps, butterflies, moths

The answer? #4. If you left out flies and wasps because they freak you out … well, just know there’s scads of different wasps and flies — not to mention bees, moths, and beetles — that’ll pollinate your posies, not to mention your apples and pears, your melons and cukes.

carpenter bees aren't interested in us — in fact, the males don't even have stingers

Male carpenter bees seem to help protects nests. Get too close and they’ll act aggressive — even though they don’t have stingers. Females could sting but won’t unless you start handling them.

Let’s look at bees first — native bees! Because the natives outnumber honey bees (originally imported from Europe) in apple orchards. A NYS IPM-funded study from 2009 – 2011 found 102 species of native bees busily pollinating apple flowers — and Cornell’s Bryan Danforth, who led that study, estimates that the native bees outperform honeybees by 200 to 300 percent. Yes, honeybees have a value-added bonus: honey rang the registers in New York at over $10 million in 2015. But if apples or pears (or blueberries or strawberries) are your crop of concern, look to the natives.

Think fruit growers are the only ones to benefit? Dairy farmers take note — leaf-cutter bees pollinate your alfalfa, according to Cornell’s Emma Mullen at NYS IPM’s pollinator conference in 2015. And while many vegetable crops are wind- or gravity-pollinated, key crops like melons, squash, pumpkins and cukes need a pollinators’ help.

Syrphid flies? Harmless. This one's looking for a flower to pollinate.

Syrphid flies? Harmless. This one’s looking for a flower to pollinate.

So … what about flies? More than meets the eye. Finding New York-specific info is a struggle, so let’s just note that vast numbers of fly species all over the world make their living off nectar. Spreading pollen around is a sideline for them but critical for us. In fact, ecologist Alison Parker (University of Toronto) modeled how bees and flies visit flowers — and showed that lots of bees might not always benefit the flowers because bees take so much pollen. But in this computer model, pollination increased with each fly visit.

Not only that, but with some (perhaps many), their larvae serve as biocontrols for crop-damaging aphids. Most nectar-guzzling flies resemble bees or wasps — after all, if you’re harmless but you look like something that defends yourself with a stinger, you’re more likely to be left alone.

monarch on milkweedWhat about beetles, moths, butterflies? Beetles were the very first insect pollinators, with ancient evolutionary origins — and according to the US Forest Service, a global pollination rate of 88 percent. The butterflies and moths? Ranking their value is a tough call, but hey — they have a job; they show up. Actually, those second-shift moths way outnumber day-duty butterflies. But you don’t often see them at work, so we don’t know how much good they do, especially  since sometimes their larvae can be troublesome for certain plants.

How about wasps? If you’ve done enough noodling around online to see that wasps do little in the way of pollination because their bodies are hairless, unable to capture and carry much pollen, keep looking. No, they’re not as competent as bees. But many do have hairy bodies, and they do help. Plus they’re great garden predators, tackling all sorts of pests.

Bringing it all together, a NYS IPM-funded project now underway at the State University of New York at Cobleskill will evaluate the efficacy of different native plant combinations in attracting native pollinators of every stripe and color — and invite visitors to view the farm and orchard demonstration plots to learn more.

What to worry about? Well, yes, the big bruisers in the pollination game often have stingers, and we don’t like being stung — but that’s for another post. And of course there’s the issue of bee health and bee declines — again, for another post. No, there’s a couple of somethings that over time could take a toll on any number of critters and plants, and we’re just beginning to wrap our arms around them. One: the impact that changing climates could have on pollinators. Not that we understand the dynamics well. The other: lost and fragmented habitats.

If you go back to Emma Mullen’s slides, you’ll see that bumble bees, for one, are unable to track climate change. And they are not alone. You’ll also find references for habitat loss and fragmentation and if you’re so inclined, you can watch the video of her talk.

More than enough info for now, no? Stay tuned — this is a perennial topic.

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