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Buzzing into Action to Support Pollinator Health through Research

Posted by Dr. Ann M. Bartuska, Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics in Conservation Animals Plants
May 27, 2015

As an ecosystem ecologist working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pollinators are near and dear to me.  Not only are they vital to agricultural production, providing billions of dollars in pollination services for the fruits, nuts and vegetables that contribute to a healthy diet, they are also important members of natural ecosystems, pollinating the plants that many other organisms rely on for food and habitat. Yet pollinators have been having a rocky time, lately. Beekeepers have struggled to maintain their honey bee colonies, the primary pollinators for our crops in the United States. They are managing a suite of simultaneous and interacting stressors to bee health, including severe weather episodes, inadequate nutrition, exposure to pesticides, and numerous damaging pests and diseases. Native pollinators also seem to be struggling with some of these same stressors, as well as land use change and habitat loss. Because of the incredible diversity of native pollinators, we know much less about their individual populations and the factors affecting their health.

To address these issues, we at USDA are excited to support the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators that President Obama released last week. The National Strategy is the product of the Pollinator Health Task Force, which USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency Co-Chair. The Strategy is a comprehensive plan to work across the Federal government and with partners to address the research, education and management challenges we must overcome to sustain healthy pollinator populations. USDA has the capacity to promote pollinator health in each of these arenas. Our intramural and extramural research programs will continue to build the knowledge base we need to manage pollinators effectively, as outlined in the accompanying Pollinator Research Action Plan. Our education programs, including our partnership with 4H, as well as those carried out by our service and research agencies, will help our communities engage with pollinator issues and to take action in their own backyards. And, lastly, our conservation programs, administered through our service agencies, will help land managers adopt pollinator-friendly practices on their properties. There is a lot of work ahead, but the coordinated effort through the Task Force ensures that we are maximizing our impact and getting the most out of our programs.

To kick off our renewed effort on pollinator health, I am pleased to announce the release of four USDA reports that make progress toward the goals outlined in the National Strategy. The USDA Honey Bee Forage and Nutrition Summit report summarizes input from stakeholders on the state of current research, identifies opportunities for public-private partnering and improving bee access to healthy forage, while determining gaps in our knowledge regarding the nutritional needs of honey bees. Touching on some of the goals of the Honey Bee Forage and Nutrition Summit, the Attractiveness of Agricultural Crops to Pollinating Bees for the Collection of Nectar and/or Pollen report synthesizes information on the attractiveness of crops to bees as a food source. This information can help in mitigating potential harms to bees from agricultural practices. The USDA Varroa Mite Summit report compiles the current knowledge of the Varroa mite, an important pest of honey bee colonies, and summarizes the research, education and outreach priorities identified by our stakeholders during the summit. Lastly, the Colony Collapse Disorder and Honey Bee Health Action Plan updates the original Action Plan released in 2007 to reflect the current state of knowledge, identifies gaps in that knowledge and outlines and prioritizes research and extension activities for how USDA and EPA will work together to address the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder.

As we move forward with the National Strategy, we look forward to continued interaction with our Federal, State, Tribal, university, private and non-governmental partners. The research to support pollinator health, and the plans to put that research into action, will require the collaborative effort of all sectors.

Category/Topic: Conservation Animals Plants