APRIL 2011
A Publication of the
Applied Math and Science Education Repository

The AMSER Science Reader Monthly aims to provide educators with a useful package of information about a particular topic related to applied math and science by combining freely available articles from popular journals with curriculum, learning objects, and web sites from the AMSER portal. The AMSER Science Reader Monthly is free to use in the classroom and educators are encouraged to contact AMSER with suggestions for upcoming issues or comments and concerns at info@amser.org.

This month's AMSER Science Reader Monthly topic is Apiculture.

Backup Bees
Article by Susan Milius
Synopsis and resource annotations by Max Grinnell

article photos

Since the dramatic colony collapse disorder (CCD) decimated the world's honeybee population in 2006, scientists and agricultural experts have been troubled. While some food plants can fertilize themselves, or use wind, 35 percent of food plants, worldwide, rely on animals for fertilization. Honeybees are used as the primary pollinator for many different crops, and the quest to find replacement or complementary pollinators has consumed many in the industry. This Science News article, by Susan Milius, explores a few possibilities for future pollinators and also examines the ways in which these replacement pollinators might be deployed in the coming years.

The piece begins as Milius describes what looks like a misplaced white clothes closet placed on the edge of a field outside of Bakersfield, California. However, it is not a clothes closet; it is a bee lock, keeping bees from escaping a five acre mesh tent. The bee lock and the mesh tent is an effort by pollination biologist Gordon Wardell to find a supplemental pollinator for almond trees, which require animal assistance for fertilization.

Wardell hopes to create a workforce of thousands of blue orchard bees. These bees don't make honey or colonies but they do visit, and fertilize, almond trees. Ultimately, the hope is that these mild-mannered bees can be used to assist honeybees out in the field. It is difficult to say what is next for California's almond industry, but ultimately there will have to be some assistance from outside parties, such as these tiny creatures. The entire $2 billion US almond industry relies on animal couriers, and interest is growing in these "insurance" pollinators. Today, at 2 million hives, the total number of honeybee hives is about half of what it was 65 years ago. Over the past seven decades, the total number of acres needing pollination in the U.S. has doubled, and as a result, those bees are some of the hardest working creatures on the planet. Farmers have begun to explore other options as a result, and along with blue orchard bees, they have experimented with flying midges as well. Developing a new kind of worker insect will require pioneering efforts, but according to Wardell, "There's no doubt in my mind it can be done."

Another possible solution is the domestication of wild insects such as flies and other types of bees. Researchers Steve Hanlin and Sharon McClurg at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station in Ames, Iowa are working on a number of possibilities. When fresh seed from plants such as corn and Echinacea is developed, Hanlin and McClurg create a pollination cage to provide pollinators for that seed. They have found that houseflies and bluebottle flies can do well on simple flower heads such as carrot flowers and hope that they will become a viable pollination option. The piece concludes by looking into the species that might make the best candidates for this type of work, such as the alfalfa leafcutting bee, the hornfaced bee, and syrphid flies.

Found below is a list of useful resources that will illuminate and enhance understanding of the topics found within this article. The first link is from the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies and features three lesson plans that address the relationship between pollinators and plants. The second link will lead interested parties to a tremendous digital archive of materials related to bees and beekeeping from the Phillips Beekeeping Collection at Cornel University. The third link leads to a very thorough website from The Ohio State University which provides a broad range of materials related to bees and pollination, including fact sheets on colony collapse disorder and honey. The fourth link will lead users to the homepage of the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, which is dedicated to research on honeybees and honey production techniques. Moving on, the fifth link leads to a text document from the USDA on insect pollination of cultivated crop plants. The final link will take visitors to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's homepage on migratory pollinators (including monarch butterflies) which pass through the "nectar corridor" from central Arizona to south-central Mexico.

Plants and Animals: Partners in Pollination
This website, from the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies, is one of many lesson plans available through their Education Center. This lesson is designed for middle school, but could easily be adapted for high school and post secondary classes. Visitors to the site will find three pollination lesson plans available for online viewing or PDF download, along with a page of further teaching resources. Objectives include identifying the parts of a flower, describing the complimentary relationships between pollinators and plants, and identifying adaptations that allow pollination to occur. Teachers will find this and the larger Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies site helpful with these complete and detailed lesson plans.
The Hive and the Honeybee
Back in 1925, Professor E. Franklin Phillips of Cornell University had a rather novel idea: Why not begin a repository of literature on bees and beekeeping for current use and for the use of future generations? In just one year, he had amassed thousands of books and pamphlets on the subject and the Phillips Beekeeping Collection at Cornell came into existence. With the kind support of beekeepers and beekeeping organizations, the Albert R. Mann Library at Cornell has digitized ten of these fine volumes in order to make them accessible to the general public. Each of the works is fully searchable, and visitors will also appreciate a brief essay which provides some background on the history of this rather intriguing collection. Volumes offered here include C.C. Miller's classic "Fifty Years Among the Bees" and the 1879 volume, "The A B C of bee culture: a cylcopaedia of everything pertaining to the care of the honey bee, bees, honey, hives, implements, and honey plants."
AgNIC: Bees and Pollination
Created by The Ohio State University Agriculture Network Information Center (AgNIC), the Bees and Pollination site is designed for scientists and members of the general public who have an interest in such matters. The materials on the site are divided into eleven different sections, including "People and Places", "Beekeeping", "Bee Diseases and Pests", and "Bee Biology". In the "Bee Diseases and Pests" area visitors can learn more about colony collapse disorder and the "Statistics" area has some great material on the value of honeybees as pollinators of US crops. Finally, the site's "Pollination" area is a great resource for reports on bee pollination throughout North America, along with details regarding their work with specific crops.
Carl Hayden Bee Research Center
The Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, part of the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Research Service, conducts ecological studies of honeybees to improve honey production and pollination of agricultural crops. Visitors to the site will find research and publications on the Center's efforts and results and downloadable software. Additionally, researchers, beekeepers, students, and homeowners will find many other features of interest, including information on Africanized honeybees and bee stings, a handbook on plants that require pollination, and a natural history of honeybees.
USDA: Insect Pollination of Cultivated Crop Plants
This site is home to an extensive online USDA text authored by S.E. McGregor, titled Insect Pollination Of Cultivated Crop Plants. Although originally written in 1976, the text is continually updated with new content. Chapters are organized by plant type (legumes, tree fruits, nuts, clovers, etc.), and provide a table of contents that allows users to jump directly to sections within each chapter. The introduction contains information on wild bees, pesticides, and other related information. Some of the basic sections include "Flowering and Fruiting of Plants", "Wild Bees and Wild Bee Culture". Additionally, new materials within the book are listed by crop and date of addition. This site contains information on pollination of numerous plants from Avocado to Zigzag Clover and everything in between. It is a great source to consult for amateur and professional gardeners alike.
Migratory Pollinators Program
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum presents this update on the Museum's Migratory Pollinators Program, which focuses primarily on part of the nectar corridor extending from south-central Mexico to central Arizona. The report, which covers program-related research, is nicely presented and a pleasure to read. Anyone with even a passing interest in plant-pollinator interactions should find this site appealing. Museum researchers examined the migratory routes of lesser long-nosed bats, rufous hummingbirds, Western white-winged doves, and monarch butterflies. Each species exhibits extraordinary migratory behavior now considered "endangered natural phenomena" due to poor ecological conditions along their 2000 to 6000 kilometer flyways. The report also includes a useful glossary and an overview of the Museum's education outreach program.

AMSER Science Reader Monthly is published by Internet Scout at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in conjunction with the National Science Digital Library with funding from the National Science Foundation. If you have questions or suggestions please e-mail us at info@amser.org.