White House publishes plan to protect vital pollinators

The White House has laid out its long-awaited strategy to improve pollinator health in the US, aiming to reduce honey bee losses, increase monarch butterfly numbers and restore or enhance millions of acres of pollinator habitat. The National Strategy to Promote Pollinator Health outlines how a mix of research, public outreach, federal land management and public-private partnerships will work to improve pollinator health, while the accompanying Pollinator Research Action Plan identifies areas where research is needed to fill the gaps in current knowledge.

 

Dr. David Inouye, Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland’s Department of Biology, and Principal Investigator at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (webpage): 

Expertise: pollination biology, flowering phenology, plant demography, and plant-animal interactions such as ant-plant mutualisms, nectar robbing, and seed predation. Dr. Inouye is President of the Steering Committee of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign and President of the Ecological Society of America.

“I’m very pleased that President Obama and his Assistant for Science & Technology Dr. Holdren have called attention to the great importance and value of pollinators for the country’s food supply, and the dangers they face. The new National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators will help educate consumers, producers, and land managers about the opportunities they have to help pollinators in their yards, on their farms, and on public lands in urban, suburban, and wild environments. The emphasis they place on native pollinators will help these butterflies, moths, bees, beetles, hummingbirds, and bats.

“The National Strategy has adopted a broad perspective on pesticides, recognizing their economic importance for crop protection and pointing out the sometimes conflicting goal of protecting pollinators from exposure. The National Strategy does a good job of addressing the major avenues of pollinator exposure and how they can be avoided or mitigated. The success of these regulatory efforts will depend on education of pesticide users and on their willingness to comply, but I think this added attention to the issue will help protect pollinators. The ongoing research by the EPA and private groups such as the Corn Dust Research Consortium will improve our understanding of the best practices for use of neonicotinoid pesticides, and may lead in the future to a ban such as the one currently imposed by the European Union.

“The Pollinator Research Action Plan addresses the major areas where we need more information in order to foster managed and native pollinator populations. It correctly identifies the lack of baseline information about who the pollinators are and their current status, the need for research on what the stressors are for pollinator populations, the value of appropriate habitat and floral resources for pollinators, and the potential for action to remedy shortcomings in knowledge and resources. The Plan does a good job of identifying how a broad range of government agencies, in cooperation with tribal and private entities, can take action in the near future to benefit pollinator populations. If all of these activities are adopted by the relevant parties, pollinators in this country will benefit tremendously.”

 

Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Assistant Professor in Entomology, University of Maryland (webpage):

Expertise: pollinator health, and honey bee health specifically; using an epidemiological approach to understanding and (importantly) improving honey bee health.

“What this report does well is take a complicated problem, identify known components, and come up with a strategy to try and address them in an even-handed way. What really strikes me is the emphasis on federal land and a concerted effort to make good clean forage for pollinators, including honey bees. The emphasis on leveraging private-public partnerships could have an exponential effect, seeing not just federal land become more pollinator friendly but also the agricultural landscape in general. There is a real concerted effort to involve everyone in the solution. That trickles right down right to the homeowner who can decide whether to spray herbicides on their lawn or plant a pollinator garden. That breadth is pretty exciting.

“The EPA has been working for a while on a new way of evaluating pesticides especially new generation ones, like neonicotinoids, that may not be killing bees outright but may have sub-lethal effects. The document identifies known risks such as the planting of seed-treated corn, which creates dust clouds during planting and is known to be a high risk for bees and other pollinators. They address issues for which there is good data and there is a balanced approach in identifying areas for which there is not good data. We need the data so decisions are evidence-based rather than ideology-based.

“What doesn’t usually get a lot of attention but is critical is varroa mite control, and they say they are going to expedite getting new products out there to tackle varroa. It’s also encouraging that they are funding NASS to do honey bee loss surveys. Our lab has been doing loss surveys for the last 9 years that have been non-randomized because we don’t get enough funding to do a census of all the beekeepers. NASS can and does do a census, so are well placed to do the loss survey. This takes bees to a level that they properly deserve. Through pollination, honey bees are the third most important livestock in the country after cows and pork but before chickens, but that’s not nearly reflected in the amount of research dollars that come to them. Hopefully this will be the start of rectifying that situation.”

 

Dr. Gene E. Robinson, Swanlund Chair of Entomology, Director, Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, Director, Illinois Bee Research Facility, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (webpage):

Expertise: Mechanisms and evolution of social behavior; sociogenomics; honey bee biology

“The Pollinator Research Action Plan outlines a strong and comprehensive program of research, that if enacted with sufficient funding, promises to dramatically improve the status of pollinators in the US. One centerpiece of the plan is a call for a National Honey Bee Germplasm Repository, something that is long overdue and absolutely essential in order to develop a stable and effective platform for improvement of bee stocks. Realizing this ambitious vision will require development of new technologies to preserve sperm and embryos, as noted in the Plan. The Plan also correctly identifies genomics as an essential component of this endeavor, and calls for extensive sequencing of genomes from different strains. In addition, we also need extensive analyses of gene expression, for many tissues, as this an excellent way to gain insights into the biological basis of economically important traits, which will enhance breeding efforts.”

 

More Information:

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy:

 

Declared interests (see GENeS register of interests policy):

Dr. David Inouye was a participant in the 2014 White House-sponsored meeting of pollination experts that helped shape the President’s Executive Order about pollinators.

Dr Dennis vanEngelsdorp is likely to apply for grants from any funding made available through the Pollinator Health Task Force strategy.

No further interests declared

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