Sometimes, it's necessary to kill a few bees to save thousands.
That's the case at the University of Kentucky where former USGA Green Section Award winner Dan Potter, Ph.D., and some of his post-graduate students have been performing seminal research on protecting pollinator populations.
Research performed under Potter's direction by doctoral candidate Jon Larson shows that neonicotinoids applied to flowering weeds can adversely affect pollinators such as honeybees and bumblebees.
According to the research, colonies exposed to clothianidin, which is a neonicotinoid pesticide, failed to produce new queens, while colonies exposed to plots treated with chlorantraniliprole developed normally, compared with the untreated control. Both insecticides are popular options for control of white grubs, caterpillars and other non-desirable pests that forage at or near the surface.
Larson's work shows that pollinators were not adversely affected when treated flowers were removed by mowing and new ones grew in their place.
Honeybee and bumblebee populations have been on the decline for years, and although one cause for such a decline has not been identified by researchers, the consensus in the academic community is that a variety of issues that include chemical exposure, parasite pressure and habitat loss, are coming together at once to challenge pollinator populations says Emily Dobbs, another of Potter's students.
"It's a very complicated issue, and I don't think anyone really knows what is causing colony collapse. I do know that the belief in the academic community is that several things are combining to create a perfect storm, such as habitat loss and fragmentation, pesticide use and parasitic pressure," Dobbs previously told TurfNet.
"Any one of those things alone wouldn't be enough to take down a bee colony, but when they're all happening at the same time, the bees can't withstand that."
Whatever the cause of colony decline, Potter says one thing researchers can agree on is that bee populations need help.
"With honeybee populations struggling," said Potter, recipient of the 2010 Green Section Award. "We need to rely on native bees, such as bumblebees, to pick up the slack on plant pollination."