Conserving Pollinators: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Evaluating the Ecological, Economic and Cultural Value of Native Bees in Mid-Atlantic Sustainable Agriculture

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Certain pollinator populations are threatened globally due to habitat fragmentation and alteration, pesticides, disease and infestations by parasites. Localized population declines have prompted interest on the part of various stakeholders in restoring and maintaining pollinator-friendly habitats on working landscapes, particularly private agricultural lands. Recommendations from the National Research Council's report, Status of Pollinators in North America, include informing the agricultural community about ways to manage pollinators and conducting studies to improve restoration protocols and to understand land managers' willingness to adopt pollinator-friendly practices (NRC 2007). Interdisciplinary in nature, this research follows NRC's recommendations and incorporates methods from environmental science, ecology and anthropology to investigate and evaluate the opportunities and challenges to native bee conservation in Mid-Atlantic sustainable agriculture. I censused sustainable agriculture farms to assess the diversity of bees in different habitats and collected and identified over 3100 individuals representing five families, 26 genera and 81 species. Native bee abundance measures indicated a temporal shift in foraging among habitats with more bees moving into crops in mid-summer. I investigated floral constancy and visitation rates among native bees at Blandy Experimental Farm in Boyce, VA and found that bees move primarily among conspecific flowers and that particular flowers are more attractive to certain bee genera. I also investigated pollination of okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) and bell pepper (Capsicum annuum) and examined importance of native bees to Mid-Atlantic vegetable crops. Additionally, I conducted a survey to examine similarities and differences in beliefs and values of Mid-Atlantic sustainable agriculture producers and pollinator scientists/managers in relation to native bee conservation. Sustainable agriculture farmers already hold beliefs, values and knowledge about ecosystem services conservation; therefore to formulate effective outreach, there is a need to understand how these beliefs differ or align with those of pollinator advocates. Although sustainable agriculture producers and pollinator scientists/managers share certain beliefs and values, enough differences were detected to impact outreach efforts. Results from the research can be used to develop feasible conservation approaches for native bees in this region.