Thursday, June 23, 2011

Celebrate Pollinator Appreciation Week

Celebrate Pollinator Appreciation Week

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Insect lovers unite! We’re in the midst of National Pollinator week, which was established by the U.S. Senate in 2007 in response to dramatic declines in pollinator populations. Over the past five years, Pollinator Week has become an international celebration of the bees, butterflies, moths, flies—and even noninsect pollinators, such as birds and bats—that make life as we know it possible.

In recognition of Pollinator Week, I checked in with Michelle Duennes, a Ph.D. student in Sydney Cameron’s lab in the U of I Department of Entomology. Duennes, who is working with others to coordinate Pollinator Week events around town and on campus, supplied the following report.

While they go generally unnoticed in our daily lives, pollinators are integral to human agriculture. Many flowering plants would not produce fruit were it not for pollinators. For instance, the cacao tree could not produce those delicious beans that are processed and turned into the chocolate we all know and love were it not for the tiny flies that pollinate them. Without the hard work of commercial honey bee hives, we would be without many other favorite foods including apples, almonds, blueberries, cranberries, kiwis, melons and squash. We would even have to go without cotton. The USDA estimates that bee pollination is responsible for nearly $15 billion in crop value. [Photo by author: a bumble bee on foxglove beardtongue.]

Over the past few years, many studies have reported significant declines in insect pollinators. This year the Cameron lab at the U of I published a three-year study reporting declines of up to 96% in four native species of bumble bees, which are important wild and commercial pollinators. This study also found higher rates of infection by a fungus called Nosema and lower genetic diversity in the declining populations. While these factors cannot yet be considered the ultimate cause of astounding declines in bumble bees, they are currently the subject of further investigation at the U of I. Another important study of bee and fly pollinators in Britain and the Netherlands in 2006 also found evidence of long term declines among these species, as well as the plants they pollinate, which illustrates how essential the bond is between plant and pollinator.

Of course, many people have heard of the recent precipitous declines in commercial honey bee populations in the U.S., which have been attributed to “Colony Collapse Disorder.” While scientists are still uncertain about the cause, many different factors have been implicated in this complex phenomenon. They include viruses, a fungus, mites, the stress of overcrowded beeyards, and the pollination of large crops with low nutritional value.

The organized celebration of National Pollinator Week in Champaign-Urbana will take place on Sunday, June 26, with Pollinator Discovery Day. Discover Day events will include a guided nature walk and a photography workshop, both of which will be conducted at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana. In addition, a number of other activities will take place at the U of I Pollinatarium, the first freestanding science center in the nation devoted to flowering plants and their pollinators. Among them will be a bee identification workshop and an evening performance by The Duke of Uke and His Novelty Orchestra.

Further details about National Pollinator Week and Pollinator Discovery Day can be at