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    March 2018
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UK researchers to study pollinator food availability on farmland

by Katie Pratt, University of Kentucky

Pollinators are extremely important to agriculture, accounting for one in every three bites of food, but their populations have been declining worldwide for a number of years. In a new study, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment researchers are evaluating how food availability on farmland impacts bee communities in early spring.

“Managing corn and soybean fields in a way that provides food for pollinators early in the spring could be beneficial to bee communities,” said Clare Rittschof, UK assistant professor in the Department of Entomology and leader of the project. “The goal of this project is to help producers improve pollinator populations on their land by providing an attractive and nutritious food source for them.”

Rittschof, Erin Haramoto, assistant professor in the UK Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and Sandra Rehan, assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire, are beginning a three-year study that will evaluate the impact of winter annual weeds and cover crops on pollinator populations and health.

Winter annual weeds grow abundantly in row crop fields that have not been seeded with a cover crop. Many of these weeds produce flowers, which may entice pollinators to the fields, whereas, cover crops do not bloom at this time.

The study will compare bee populations and bee species’ diversity in plots containing traditional cover crops to those with winter weeds at UK’s Spindletop Research Farm and on the lands of local farmer cooperators. They will also study how the abundance of flowering weeds on these plots impact honey bee colony growth and health.

It is funded in part by a grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. The foundation is a nonprofit established through the 2014 Farm Bill.          

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