Pollinator Partnership Blog

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These blog posts are opinions expressed by the author. If you have any comments, please direct them to info@pollinator.org.  

Caribbean Bee Rescue Campaign

By Tom Van Arsdall, Pollinator Partnership

Last fall, Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck many islands in the Caribbean causing catastrophic damage and triggering a major humanitarian crisis.  It crippled island infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, including access to electricity, water, and other basic necessities.   Agriculture was decimated, too.  Cropland, family farms, and food systems were largely destroyed, and nearly $780 million in crop losses have been recorded so far in Puerto Rico.  

Today, beekeepers in Puerto Rico, along with the Virgin Islands and other Caribbean islands, are slowly recovering.  Beekeepers throughout the Caribbean are essential to local agriculture and provide important pollination services to specialty crop farmers and others. In addition, they contribute to the local economy through various value-added products ranging from various beeswax products to locally produced mead (honey wine). In Puerto Rico, fewer than 150 beekeepers provide 7% of the honey consumed on the island, and these men and women maintained several thousand hives.  From pineapples to coffee to countless fruits and vegetables, honeybees and other pollinators will be key to the recovery of Puerto Rican and Caribbean agriculture. 

Pollinator Partnership recent led a campaign made up of private citizens, beekeepers from throughout the United States, industry groups, companies, land-grant universities, and many others to provide emergency assistance to the beekeepers of the Caribbean.   The first stage of this relief was to provide essential nutrition to bees in the form of pollen patties and powdered protein. In the continental U.S., beekeepers have access to commercially produced protein sources, but these sources are unavailable in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.  With your help, thousands of pounds of emergency bee protein was provided to beekeepers, but the storms also destroyed many of the Langstroth wooden hives used by beekeepers to house their bees and bees that survived the destruction of their hives swarmed, taking up residence in people’s homes, schools, and other structures.  The campaign has also provided new hives for many Caribbean beekeepers.  To date, almost 1,000 new hives have been shipped to Puerto Rico and these critical supplies have reached beekeepers throughout the island! 

Assistance from the Pollinator Partnership Caribbean Bee Rescue campaign will continue in 2018.  In addition to providing these emergency materials, the next phases of the campaign will focus on the following:

  • We will continue to work with local beekeepers and teams from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) to help strengthen beekeeping and pollination services in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
  • We will continue to assess the hurricane’s impacts on other pollinating species in the Caribbean to determine how help can be provided.
  • Working with local beekeepers, UPR scientists, officials in Puerto Rico, and beekeepers from the US Virgin Islands, we will determine how additional help can be provided going forward.

When disaster struck the Caribbean’s beekeepers, you and the Pollinator Partnership answered the call.  Your support of our efforts gave us the opportunity to offer a much needed boost to the pollinators of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands – and to our fellow Americans throughout the Caribbean.  Thanks again for your generosity.  Together, we’ll continue to assist the beekeepers of the Caribbean!

Published 5/25/18

2017 Mite-A-Thon Recap

By Isaac Lisle, Pollinator Partnership

The Varroa mite was introduced into North America 30 years ago from Asia, and is one of the leading stressors to the health of honey bees in North America. The presence of mites in hives is a leading indicator of the health of the hive and the percentage of bees with mites provides a way to measure the cumulative impact of other stressors such as pesticides, poor nutrition, and disease. There are significant data showing that low rates of Varroa mite infestation make overwintering success more probable.

Pollinator Partnership (P2) and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) organized the Mite-A-Thon, a citizen science initiative, to gather data on Varroa mite infestations. This initiative took place from September 9 to 16, 2017, testing honey bee hives for levels of Varroa mites all across North America just before overwintering began. Commercial, side-liner, and hobbyist beekeepers were all encouraged to participate in order to create a rich distribution of sampling sites in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Over 900 participants reported data from across the continent, meeting the high expectations set for the initial year of the campaign.

Participants tested the level of mites present in their hives using a standardized protocol utilizing two common methods of assessment (powdered sugar roll or alcohol wash) and then uploaded their data (at www.mitecheck.com), including location, total number of hives, number of hives tested, local habitat, and the number of Varroa mites counted from each hive.

The primary objectives for this annual project are 1) to raise awareness about honey bee colony Varroa infestations in North America through effective monitoring methods and 2) to make management strategies available for discussion within bee organizations utilizing Mite-A-Thon partner developed information and outreach materials. To these ends, a density map has been created that attempts to show Varroa mite distribution in the United States based off mean mite counts.

While this data is useful, it is clearly incomplete and potentially misleading. Large swathes of the country, particularly in the west, have no reported data, yielding potentially incorrect low mite levels. Additional sample size issues are present in this data, including the fact that the highest value represented in the map is 0.0115 mites per square mile. This is almost certainly a low number due to low reporting, especially in areas with high honey bee concentrations. If one beekeeper out of 20 in the vicinity participated and reported high mite counts, it is likely that the others also had similarly high counts that went unreported. 

With a better idea of the gaps in currently available data, Pollinator Partnership is seeking to increase participation in Mite-A-Thon 2018 that will take place the week of September 8. This participation is especially needed in top honey producing states because participation from these was lacking in 2017 and almost nonexistent in the top 3 states.

Mark your calendars for the 2018 Mite-A-Thon: Saturday, September 8 – Saturday, September 15! Keep informed at http://www.pollinator.org/miteathon

Published 3/15/18

Monarchs: Where are they now?

By Kathleen Law, Pollinator Partnership (Canada)

If, in the warm months of 2017, you were anywhere along the Monarch butterfly’s eastern migratory route - which stretches north from Mexico all the way to Canada - you might have noticed an unusually high number of these colourful beauties. Here in downtown Toronto, Monarchs were a common and plentiful sight from July well into October, and I even spotted a few stragglers in early November.  Does that mean their population, which has declined by about 90% in the last 25 years, has rebounded?

It’s too early to tell what the 2018 numbers are (those numbers should be available by late February to mid-March from WWF Mexico and Monarch Joint Venture), but we do know that this was an exceptional year not only for Monarchs but for many species of migratory butterflies. This includes the painted lady butterflies, which were so abundant that the US National Weather Service’s satellites picked up a 70-mile (110km) wide mass flying over Denver (or http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-41528521). It’s the combination of good weather conditions during the overwintering months, a rainy spring that promoted flower blooms, and some winds from the south that pushed the butterflies north that contributed to these population bursts.

Weather conditions, from draughts to storms to El Nino, have big impacts on year-to-year variability in migratory butterfly populations. So though 2017 might have been a “bumper crop” year for monarchs, these numbers have to be contextualized with long-term trends. It will be a few years still before we can tell whether the decline in Monarchs has slowed, stopped or, hopefully, even reversed.

And while it was a real delight to see so many of them well into the fall, the unseasonal warm weather disrupted the environmental cues that tell Monarchs to begin their migration south to their overwintering grounds. That means many of those I saw in October will not have made it south through the cold snaps, heavy winds and the hurricanes that they will have met along the way. Along with habitat loss, climate change is also a big threat to monarchs.

Fortunately, citizens, community groups, businesses and governments across North America are working together to increase the odds for monarchs. Here at Pollinator Partnership, we are in the planning stages of creating forty (yes, 40!) new monarch habitat sites in Ontario between now and 2019 with help from a diverse group of partners.

And while we wait to find out what this year’s overwintering numbers are, you can have a listen to the sound of millions of Monarch’s wings flapping in the Cerro- Pelon area of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico.  Have a listen to this live audio stream, courtesy of Dr. Jaramillo Lopez, of the Research Institute for Ecosystems and Sustainability at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and the Locus Sonus project. But hurry up! These monarchs will start heading north in just a few weeks. 

Published 2/26/18

Land Trusts Can Help Protect Monarchs and Other Pollinators

By Val Dolcini, Pollinator Partnership

As many in the land stewardship and conservation movement are aware, the monarch butterfly and its spectacular 3,000-mile migration (from Mexico, throughout the American Midwest, to Canada) is in great jeopardy. This incredible migration was listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as an endangered phenomenon in 1983, and in 2010, the World Wildlife Fund included monarchs on its list of the “Top 10 to Watch", which includes species that are in need of close monitoring and protection.  In 2014, the US Fish & Wildlife Service was petitioned to protect the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act, and a listing decision is to be expected by the summer of 2019.  

However, there is a real opportunity for land trusts and conservation advocates to help. Simply planting milkweed and other native nectar plants will fuel the monarch for its incredible journey. Restoring habitat on former industrial sites and making greater use of managed corridors like utility ‘rights-of-way’ are two ways to increase fuel stations for the pollinator. Restored and natural lands managed by the land trusts across the Midwest, as well as promoting habitat on working agriculture lands could also play a valuable role in monarch conservation.  Supporting the fragile migration of this iconic species lies within our ability to create and maintain adequate habitat with nectar resources to fuel the journey and milkweed plants to house the eggs. Like other organizations focused on science-based outcomes and practical results, Pollinator Partnership (P2) is taking action by joining forces with a variety of non-governmental organizations, land grant universities, and state and federal agencies along the migration route who are determined to strengthen and support the extraordinary natural phenomenon for years to come.

In 2014, P2 formed Monarch Wings Across Ohio (MWAO) which has established 18 monarch research plots utilized by our scientists to determine which native nectar plants are the best fuel source for the monarch butterfly during its migration. This research will allow P2 to publish the first ever Ohio-specific monarch habitat development guide with science-based plant lists. Look for it in the early spring of 2018.   

P2 has also partnered with others to form Monarch Wings Across the Eastern Broadleaf Forest (MWAEBF), a five state effort designed to secure long-term monarch habitat. The project goals are increase the amount of regionally appropriate native seed and provide technical training to landowners and managers throughout the project region (Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri and Arkansas). P2 is working with landowners and land managers in these states to determine if they qualify for a free onsite habitat review by P2’s Monarch Habitat Coordinator who will provide suggestions and tips for monarch habitat enhancement – free of charge. The monarch habitat technical training courses will open in the spring.  Visit http://pollinator.org/mwaebf for more information.  

We can all do something to support the monarch butterfly and its migration from Mexico to Canada.  All efforts, large or small, contribute to the success of this species.  Planting a backyard garden, working to dedicate larger tracts of land to agricultural or conservation easements, or even planting a few short rooted milkweeds in a balcony flower pot are all great ways to support monarchs. Together, we can truly make a difference in the survival of the monarch.  For more information about these programs, our native planting guides, P2’s work throughout North America and how you can help, please visit  http://www.pollinator.org.   


Published 1/31/18