Field Season 2014

This coming summer marks my first field season as a graduate student.  As for most ecologists, entomologists, or agriculture-related researchers, summer is the season where the “work” gets done.  The winter months are for data analysis and writing!

For the past month or so, I have been in the process of developing a series of experiments that will be carried out over the course of the summer months.  Below, I have very briefly summarized the projects I am interested in carrying out this summer:

  1. Floral competition:  Does the presence of additional floral resources increase, or decrease the production of a pollinator dependent crop?  The idea of this experiment stems off basic competition theory.  Almost all flowering plants require insect pollination, a service that is, and is becoming increasingly more, limited.  Whenever resource is limited, those individuals who require it are often in competition with one another to acquire that resource.

    Generalist pollinators (e.g. bumblebees, honey bees) perform best when a diverse array of flowering plants are available.  However, the common farm practice is to limit the availability of additional floral resources as to protect from the possibility of bees visiting non-crop flowers.  This practice could have an unintended, negative consequence of reducing pollinator abundance and/or diversity by reducing the resource base bees depend on.  Because of this, farming practice and pollinator conservation strategies are placed at odds.

    That being said, there aren’t many studies that explicitly test the claim that having additional floral resources will detract from crop pollination services.  In fact, some studies suggest that the opposite may be true: an increase in additional floral resources may increase crop production by supporting a larger, more localized population of native pollinators that then visit crops as well.I am developing an experimental design that will test these claims using a series of plot designs that alter the phenology (timing) of floral resources surrounding a pollinator dependent crop (cucumber) to determine if competition occurs by measuring the crop yield within each plot.

  2. Tracking bees with RFID: One of my goals with my research is to develop farm-level maps of pollination services to help farmers identify areas of their farms that provide the greatest pollination services.  Ideally, those areas would then be conserved or enhanced to further build pollinator populations.  One piece of that model that is required, is the foraging patterns and ranges of native bees.RFID (radio frequency identification) is a technology that could inform that component of the model.  Ultra-small radio tags are attached to your organism of choice (lately, birds)  and then tracked using antennae arrays.  The tags are small enough for ants, and would be able to help determine bee foraging behavior in situ (in place; in their natural habitat).Specifically, I would like to determine if this method is practical, and then try to figure out the average foraging distance of bees in an agricultural landscape.  Where do bees go?  Where do they prefer to spend their time?  Gathering these data will help build ‘gravity’ into my model.  That is, I can selectively bias areas of habitat that bees prefer to provide additional realism to my model.

So that’s the plan so far!  There may be one additional experiment to perform in the later part of the year, but that is still contingent on a few things…  Stay tuned for updates on the season!