We are very happy to announce that the Northeast Pollinator Partnership (NEPP) has obtained grant funding from the New York Farm Viability Institute to develop the project over the next two years!

Why Are We Excited?

For the past six years, my laboratory at Cornell has been studying the wild bee fauna of New York apple orchards. We have quantified wild bee diversity and abundance from the south shore of Lake Ontario to the Hudson Valley. These studies have revealed a great deal about the importance of wild bees as apple pollinators:

  • wild bees are diverse and abundant in NY apple orchards
  • wild bees are highly effective pollinators on a per-visit basis
  • wild bees have a significant impact on seed and fruit set in NY orchards

While wild bees are abundant and effective apple pollinators, we have also found that wild bee populations are sensitive to the availability of natural habitat in and around orchards and to the level of pesticide use. Overall, our studies are indicating that wild bees are contributing significantly to apple pollination in NY state orchards. A diverse and abundant wild bee community can buffer growers against declines in honey bee abundance or increased hive rental costs… and they work for free!

Can You Take the Leap?

But how can apple growers know whether the wild bee fauna at their site is sufficiently abundant and diverse to provide adequate levels of pollination for commercial apple production?

This is where the NEPP can help. The NEPP is designed to allow apple growers to assess the abundance of wild bees in their orchards during bloom. We have developed simple, fast, and (we hope) easy protocols for apple growers, extension professionals, and backyard naturalists to survey wild bee abundance based on 5 minute visual surveys of trees in bloom. Data from these visual surveys will be entered into a smartphone or tablet mobile app and uploaded to a centralized database. Once data have been collected and analyzed, we will be able to make recommendations back to growers on how best to manage their pollination needs. Based on these grower-collected surveys, growers will have a better understanding of their local bee fauna and therefore increased flexibility in their decisions about whether or not to rent honey bees in the future.

Our Ultimate Goal

We want to improve the long-term sustainability and management of pollination services across orchards in NY and, more broadly, eastern North America. Along the way, we hope to raise awareness among apple growers, backyard naturalists, and the general public about the importance of pollinator conservation. The apple industry, and ultimately 1/3 of the human food supply, is dependent on these hard-working, underpaid, biologically fascinating, unsung heros of the natural world – wild bees.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes about bees, from Hannah Nordhaus’ excellent book, “The Beekeeper’s Lament”:

“[Bees are] creatures of routine, sticklers for order. Their short lives revolve around tending and cleaning and feeding the queen and the young. Bees are single-minded. They do not ditch their queen just because they feel like it. They do not get restless and leave their young. They do not go on flights of fancy. They do not enroll in semesters abroad on a whim or grow dreadlocks or get tattoos or go on extended vacations. They do their jobs.”

Stay up-to-date on the latest news from the project by following us on Twitter at @NEPollinator.

NOTE: We are very grateful to the NYFVI and to the growers, extension professionals, and institutions that have collaborated with us on our ongoing studies of wild bees and their role in apple pollination. Special thanks to Mike Biltonen, Jim Eve, and Julie Carroll for their help in contacting interested growers and to the apple growers who have generously allowed us to conduct our research on their farms.