University receives nearly a million dollars to research bee population

By Heather Schlitz, Assistant News Editor

A research team in LAS received nearly one million dollars from the Department of Agriculture to research the nesting habitats of the declining bee population.

Alexandra Harmon-Threatt, lead researcher for the project and professor at the University, said the $994,786 grant will be used to research how contaminants in the soil where bees nest affect the health of the bee population.

With bee populations declining across the U.S., the grant received by Harmon-Threatt and her team is part of an approximately $10 million given out in grants by the USDA to 14 universities for researching methods to maintain a healthy population of pollinators.

“Without bees pollinating a lot of plants, you lose a lot of diversity,” Harmon-Threatt said. “It’s estimated that two-thirds of our food would not exist without pollinators. Without adequate pollination, we wouldn’t get a lot of the fruits and vegetables we need.”

Harmon-Threatt said her research would focus on examining how pesticides and herbicides applied to crops affect bee habitats directly adjacent to the agricultural land.

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The USDA’s CP42 Pollinator Habitat program allows landowners and farmers to set aside plots of land to be designated as pollinator habitats.

Once a section of cropland is enrolled in the CP42 program, farmers are eligible to receive compensation from the USDA in return for meeting certain requirements.

Harmon-Threatt said there has been a dearth of research on the effectiveness of these agricultural habitats.

Anthony Yannarell, soil microbial ecologist working with Harmon-Threatt on the project, said insecticides are often applied directly to seeds rather than sprayed on the fields themselves, resulting in the insecticides spreading via dust from cropland to the pollinators’ nesting habitats.

According to Yannarell, the properties of some insecticides may weaken bees and degrade their ability to care for their young.

Yannarell said the team has already seen interest from one local farmer and hopes to reach out to other working farms next spring.

“All organisms on our planet deserve space to live and survive,” Harmon-Threatt said. “We’ve taken all of that habitat from them, so they have no place to go. From a conservation perspective, it’s important just because we have destroyed their habitat and their existence on the planet.”

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