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I lead OSU Extension's efforts to design, develop, implement and evaluate a state-wide pollinator health program. The focus of this program is not restricted to Oregon's four managed pollinator species (honey bees, alfalfa leafcutter bees, orchard mason bees and alkali bees) but also to the state's rich endowment of wild species.
"The honey bee has in effect become the first insect with its own ‘risk cup’.”
- May Berenbaum (2016, J Agric Food Chem, 64: 13-20)
Pollinator decline is changing the way we think about pesticides. As Berenbaum remarks, this new paradigm re-conceptualizes pesticide risks to honey bees in a manner paralleling changes to human pesticide risk assessment that took place roughly twenty years ago. Instead of calculating risk on a chemical-by-chemical basis, we increasingly understand that the risk posed by pesticides to pollinators is best explained by a “risk cup”; the cumulative and interactive effect of the pesticides pollinators encounter when they leave their colony, shelter or nest. For beekeepers this also includes the compounding effect of acarcides used to managing Varroa mites. Yet, in spite of remarkable advances in integrating the cumulative toxic effects of pesticides on all pollinating insects, our ability to render these findings into targeted extension initiatives, let alone a cohesive set of pest management practices in the real world, is hampered by the fact that we still know little about where pollinators are located relative to where pesticides are being applied. If the human “risk cup” became a reality because risk assessments could be grounded in vast datasets describing patterns of human behavior, a pollinator “risk cup” will remain conceptual until we can relate exposure risk to patterns of honey bee colony movement and the arrangement of wild pollinator populations in the Oregon landscape.
1. Pesticide Exposure
A "risk cup" implies an understanding of where and how pollinators are being exposed to pesticides in both agricultural and urban landscapes and being able to determine the consequences to the productivity of managed species and community composition of wild species. I am interested in research that leads to a more concrete picture of the pollinator "risk cup" including:
- working directly with land managers to better understand the pest management pressures they face during high risk periods (e.g., crop bloom, high drift potential) and the opportunity for affordable alternatives of lower risk
- characterize actual exposure levels through analysis of field collected samples of pollinators, pollen and nectar
- methods to track the reduced exposure of pollinators to pesticides over time
2. Pollinator Habitat
The other side of the "risk cup" is an understanding how pollinators use complex urban and agricultural landscapes to meet their life history requirements for forage and shelter. I am interested in research that better characterizes the nesting, foraging and host plant needs for managed and wild (common and rare) species, which not only leads to a more realistic pollinator "risk cup", but that can inform land managers on pollinator habitat restoration.
3. Pollination Systems
Managed bee stocks and wild pollinator populations are part of a broadly interconnected agroecological system. Various parts of this system influence pollinator health and, in turn, pollinator contributions back to agricultural yield. But since the system is so large and its various elements interact in a dynamic manner, the ultimate causes of pollinator decline and its impact on food production are frequently obscure. I am interested in research that specifies the linkages within this system, including:
- how managed bee stocks respond to changing demand for pollination services
- the interaction between pest management and pollination in generating agricultural value
- how the value of pollination to agriculture changes over time (e.g., through cultivar development, changes in cropping practices, in response to prolonged periods of low farm income)