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Scientists determine key factors of honeybee decline

Working with Bees – Virginia Tech from VirginiaTech on Vimeo.


Though a contributing factor, farmer-applied pesticides are not the primary cause of honeybee colony loss in Virginia, according to Virginia Tech scientists Richard Fell and Carlyle Brewster.

The scientists recently took wax, pollen, and bee samples from more than 110 hives across the state and have analyzed about half of them for pesticide residues.

class2“We did not find excessive amounts of agricultural pesticides in the hives, but we did find a significant amount of beekeeper-applied miticide,” said Fell, professor emeritus of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Intended to kill the invasive, parasitic varroa mite, miticides can also be damaging to bees. Fell urged beekeepers to sample their colonies to determine mite infestation levels before treating. If treatment is necessary, beekeepers should use a miticide that does not cause residue problems, such as formic acid.

As more information emerges on the spread of the Zika virus, Fell also encouraged the public to be mindful that mosquito pesticides are toxic to honeybees and should only be applied when absolutely necessary.

Fell and Brewster, who is also a professor of entomology, are now in the third year of a five-year, $1.4 million project funded by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to better understand honeybee decline.

Their next step is to examine select hives more intensely to determine other key factors involved in honeybee loss. The approximate rate of hive loss in Virginia is more than 30 percent per year, and continued losses are expected to drive up the cost for important crops that bees make possible, such as apples, melons, and squash.

While it is good news that agricultural pesticides are not wholly to blame, it also means that the problem is more complicated than expected, and the researchers have their work cut out for them.

“Landscape change, lack of habitat, and climate change’s impact on floral bloom seasons are all factors that impact honeybees that we need to learn more about and potentially develop strategies around,” Brewster said.

Tim Kring, department head of entomology, said he will hire two new pollinator scientists — one researcher and one Extension specialist — in the coming year.

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Research aids in the fight against invasive species

Invasive Species Potluck – Virginia Tech from VirginiaTech on Vimeo.


From soybean fields to hemlocks forests, experts from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Virginia Cooperative Extension are developing ways to deal with and control the hitchhikers, interlopers, and otherwise nasty pests known as invasive species.

“The top 10 pests that we deal with now are non-native, and we spend lots of money to control them,” said Eric Day, an entomologist with Virginia Cooperative Extension and manager of the Insect Identification Lab in the Department of Entomology.

Meanwhile Assistant Professor Jacob Barney in the Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, collaboratively studies another invasive species — Johnsongrass — a weed that chokes out crops on farmland because of its fast-growing and extensive root structure.

Jacob-Barney

Jacob Barney, assistant professor in the Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, is just one of a team of faculty members studying invasive species and protecting Virginia producers from their destruction.

Barney will study what makes Johnsongrass a globally successful weed and use the research to establish a model for studying other weeds and how to predict invasiveness.

Another most-wanted intruder, the brown marmorated stink bug, is an annoyance to homeowners, but the real problem is the millions of dollars in damage it causes to crops across the Mid-Atlantic region.

“We have very few agricultural commodities that this bug does not attack,” said Associate Professor Tom Kuhar, an Extension entomologist.

Kuhar and his team of graduate students are studying aspects of the stink bug’s biology and ecology, its insecticide efficacy, and sustainable practices for managing it in vegetable crops.

Day recently returned from Berks County, Pennsylvania, where a pest that attacks grapes and other stone fruit crops like peaches has been identified: the spotted lanternfly.

“It’s a two-prong effort, identifying them and also making people aware of their presence,” Day said. “Virginia Cooperative Extension and our partner organizations play a large role in helping to get the word out about these invasive species so producers and the general public can control them.”

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