Backyard Orchard News
The purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a favorite among the autumn plants blooming in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, the half-acre bee friendly garden planted last fall next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis.
The purple coneflower, which looks like a conehead surrounded by drooping petals, is endemic to eastern and central North America.
It's a common sight to see dark and light-colored honey bees foraging on the coneflowers. The darker bees, New World Carniolans (the line belonging to bee breeder Susan Cobey and located at the Laidlaw bee yard) and the Italians (the most common bee in the United States) share many a coneflower.
Yes, they all get along.
The haven, open year around at no charge, is located on Bee Biology Road west of the central campus. It was designed as a year-around food source for the Laidlaw bees and other pollinators; to raise public awareness of the plight of the bees; to provide information on what folks can plant in their own gardens to attract bees; and as a research garden.
What to plant for autumn foraging? Consider the coneflower!
It was not a good day to "stop and smell the roses."
A vespid wasp apparently lingered too long on a rose--perhaps dropping by for a sip of nectar or seeking unsuspecting prey.
What it found was another predator, a praying mantis looking for breakfast.
The scenario unfolded last week in the Storer Garden at the University of California, Davis.
The mantid grasped the wasp in its spiked forelegs and methodically began to consume it.
It bit into the head first, thorax next, and then snatched a wing.
All that was left: a wing and a prayer.
On a Wing and a Prayer
Noted bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey not only has the best of both worlds, but the best of both springs.
Cobey, affiliated with the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, since 2007 and as a bee research collaborator at Washington State University since 2007, now has a dual appointment: UC Davis and WSU.
She is dividing her time 50-50 between the two universities.
Honey bee research is the winner.
Cobey will continue her work on enhancing domestic honey bee breeding stock and improving colony health. Her WSU appointment is based in western Washington at the Mt. Vernon Research Station.
“The overall goal is to improve colony health to supply the critical and demanding need for pollination of the nation’s agricultural crops,” she said.
“A major focus of my dual appointment is to expand the collaborative effort to enhance our domestic honey bee breeding stocks through the incorporation of germplasm collected from bees around the world,” Cobey said. “Genetic diversity is critical to maintain healthy honey bee populations.”
European colonists brought the honey bee (Apis mellifera) to what is now the United States in the 1600s. “Importation was banned in 1922 to avoid the tracheal mite,” Cobey related. “To avoid the introduction of tracheal mites, a small founder bee population was established before the importation ban in 1922. This small subset of a few subspecies from limited importations represents a genetic bottleneck. This is an increasing concern with the continuing high losses of colonies due to parasitic mites, the plague of new pathogens and the phenomena of colony collapse disorder.”
Cobey collaborates with apiculturist Steve Sheppard, professor and chair of the WSU Department of Entomology, in an ongoing honey bee stock improvement project between the two universities.
WSU holds the APHIS-USDA (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) quarantine in an ecological reserve isolated by a sea of wheat. “This is where we are introducing, observing and testing the colonies resulting from the semen importations,” Cobey said. “We have brought in Apis mellifera carnica stock from Germany, Apis mellifera ligustica from Italy, and most recently Apis mellifera caucasica from the Republic of Georgia.” Carniolans and Caucasians are dark races of bees. The Italian bee (Apis mellifera liguistica) is the most prevalent bee in the United States.
This effort also includes research into developing protocols for the safe importation of germplasm and the development of cryopreservation techniques for long term storage.
The dual appointment basically means two springs. "I can enjoy the early spring season in California and then head north to follow the season in Washington state," she said. "Queen rearing in California usually can be started in late February. By June, the summer heat and dearth make this more difficult, especially in maintaining a large pool of drones for mating. Spring in Washington kicks in by May, so this is prime queen-rearing season in the Pacific Northwest.”
Working in both California and the Pacific Northwest will allow the evaluation and selection of stocks in different climates. “This will also provide reservoirs of stock in different places to spread the risk of losing valuable lines.”
Her husband, Tim Lawrence, formerly of UC Davis, is the newly named director of WSU’s Island County Extension. The couple lives in Island County.
If you're looking for vanishing pollinators this weekend, head over to the Marin Civic Center, 3501 Civic Center Drive, San Rafael, and see the ecoart exhibit produced by WEAD, the Women Environmental Artists Directory.
The occasion is the 2010 Bioneers Conference, focusing on food and farrming. The conference opened today (Oct. 15) and continues through Sunday, Oct. 17.
Entrance to see the art exhibit, displayed in the Marin Civic Center Auditorium and Exhibit Hall through Sunday, is free.
What is WEAD? Basically, these are artists focusing on women's unique perspectives, "collaborating internationally to further the field and understanding of ecological and social justice art," according to their mission statement.
Twenty-five artists are showing their work. In a statement released to the news media, they said they are exploring "the urgent plight of endangered pollinators. Essential to survival of all plants and trees, fruits and vegetables, pollinators range from beetles, bats, butterflies, and moths to ants. The media often ignores the issue’s urgency. Fortunately, the federal government, recognizing incipient
danger, is now initiating research to develop programs to deter decline."
Very true. We often think of bees and butterflies as pollinators, but pollinators can be beetles, ants and even flies. Look around in your garden. There could be a tachinid tucked on a lavender leaf, a parasitic fly perched on a rose petal, or a beetle crawling around the bed of alyssum.
Among the work you'll see is that of visual artist Carol Newborg. She's a mixed-media installation artist who uses natural materials and natural forms.
"I've also worked in community arts for many years and I believe in the importance of art and access to making art for all," said Newborg, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Newborg has two pieces in the show,"Disappearing Mission Blue" and "Disappearing Luna."
We know of the declining population of honey bees and bumble bees. Let's hope that they and other pollinators don't decline AND disappear.
Disappearing Mission Blue
Scores of people want to hear what Murray Isman has to say.
And on Wednesday night, Oct. 27, they can.
Murray Isman, a noted expert on botanical insecticides, will deliver the Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Seminar in Entomology at 5 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 27 in the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) at UC Davis.
Isman, who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis in 1981, is now the dean of Land and Food Systems and professor of applied biology (entomology/toxicology) at the University of British Columbia.
He will speak on "Aromatherapy for Pest Management? Pesticides Based on Plant Essential Oils for Agriculture, Industry and as Consumer Products" at 5 p.m. in the ARC Ballroom. A social hour is set for 4 p.m.
His lecture, free and open to the public, will be webcast live and then archived on the UC Davis Department of entomology website. There's also a buffet dinner at 6 p.m. for faculty, alumni, students and other friends of entomology. (Carol Nickles is taking reservations for the buffet dinner at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 754-8638. Deadline for reservations: Sunday, Oct. 24.)
Isman and his research team develop insecticides, miticides, fungicides and herbicides using various plant essential oils as the active ingredients. EcoSMART Technologies (Alpharetta, GA) sells products of this type for the agricultural, industrial and consumer markets in the United States. “We are developing improved agricultural pesticides through enhanced formulations and in mixture with other botanical products,” Isman said.
Collaborating with university and industrial partners, the Isman team previously investigated the development of botanical insecticides derived from the Indian neem tree (Azadirachta indica), from medicinal plants and timber species of southeast Asia and Central America, and from tall oil, a byproduct of the temperate zone pulp and paper industry.
The Isman team also investigates the behavioral and physiological effects of plant defensive chemicals in insects. “We have investigated the effects of mixtures of plant chemicals on insect feeding and on the development of resistance to botanical insecticides,” Isman said. “Studies have characterized habituation to feeding deterrents in caterpillars, the metabolism of plant defensive chemicals by herbivorous insects, and the pharmacokinetics and fate of plant chemicals in insects.”
Their work also involves developing non-toxic crop protection chemicals that mimic naturally occurring bioactive odorants and tastants--and that are relatively easily prepared from commodity chemicals. “Because host plant detection is essential to the larval and adult stages of moth species consequently leading to crop damage,” he said, “we are targeting this chemical communication system with aromatic odorants that interfere with larval feeding or the oviposition behavior of adult moths, without causing toxic effects to the insects." This is collaboration with professor Erika Plettner of Simon Fraser University, British Columbia.
The seminar memorializes cotton entomologist Thomas Frances Leigh (1923-1993) and his wife Nina Eremin Leigh (1929-2002). Tom Leigh was an international authority on the biology, ecology and management of arthropod pests affecting cotton production.