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Pollination—Day or Night

Nifa Author
Margaret Lawrence, Writer-Editor

Everyone needs pollinators. They are a critical part of the production team that ensures we have food on our dinner tables. People consider bees of all types as the quintessential pollinators—busy all day visiting flowering fruits and vegetable plants.

But bees are just one part of the vast pollination workforce tending the nation’s fields and orchards. Pollinators include a wide variety of other insects and animals - such as bees, wasps, moths, flies, butterflies, birds, and even bats.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture supports pollinator research in a variety of ways including through competitive grants and capacity funding. And that research is looking beyond bees to learn more about the less flashy members of the pollination workforce.

Getting It Done on the Night Shift

University of Arkansas research showed nighttime pollinators have similar pollinating potential to those active in the daytime. The study, supported by capacity funding, was among the first to examine nocturnal pollination in agriculture and the first recorded study on night pollinators for apples. The effort provided vital scientific data on night pollinators, which have not been widely studied.

The researchers found nocturnal pollinators, including moths, contributed to apple pollination in both years of the experiment. The research is the first to demonstrate that nocturnal pollinators can provide comparable pollination levels to daytime pollinators in any cultivated crop. It also suggests that nocturnal pollinators may provide an important source of stabilization in apple production as pollinator populations experience declines.

Learn more about this research here

Make the Farm a Pollinator Haven

Funded by NIFA, Sustainable Agriculture Research Education (SARE) is currently supporting a number of pollinator-related projects. Several SARE projects have shown habitat strips support pollinator and beneficial insect populations on farms. An ongoing SARE project in Washington is working to equip farmers with an improved understanding of pollinator and beneficial insect biology and wildlife habitat establishment on farms.  Perhaps most significantly, the project will provide producers with planting templates they can adapt to their operations. In addition to demonstrations on host farms, workshops will address establishing and maintaining habitat plantings, the basics of native bee and beneficial insect biology and identification, and cost share opportunities for habitat establishment. The project’s goal is to have at least one third of the workshop attendees begin implementing improved wildlife habitat practices. Learn more here

Hover and Fly

A researcher at the University of Georgia, supported by a NIFA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant, is looking for ways to capitalize on hover flies as pollinators. Adult hover flies are important pollinators for many crops, while larvae can work as a biological control of soft-bodied pests such as aphids. The research will investigate three limitations to capitalizing on hover fly pollination and biological control services. These include a lack of in-depth ecological knowledge of specific species, the public’s lack of familiarity with hover flies, and a lack of information on regional species diversity. To address these limitations, the research will work to better understand the migratory habits of one abundant hover fly species. Large-scale seasonal migrations can have major implications for farmers and other stakeholders because they determine whether certain crops will be successfully pollinated, and aphid pests will be suppressed.

A collaboration with the Georgia Botanical Garden's Connect to Protect program will work alleviate the public’s "hover fly blindness.” The partnership will distribute educational materials, including a Georgia species checklist and identification key to enhance awareness of hover flies’ benefits and help protect them.

Photo: Monarch butterfly on a pink Zinnia. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock. 

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