The end of September was all about insects in Orlando, Florida. The XXV International Congress of Entomology (ICE), hosted by The Entomological Society of America (ESA), attracted over 6,600 delegates from 102 countries. What progress had been made in the management of some of the intricate pest problems around the world was just one of many topics discussed. The event’s theme “Entomology without Borders” depicts it well: arthropods do not respect human-established geographical borders, and fortunately neither do researchers, exploring and expanding the scientific frontiers. Topics like the consequences of easier international transportation and global trade, allowing the convenient dispersal of arthropods and associated diseases affecting humans, animals and plants. Or the implications of changes in climate boundaries, urban population development, and agro-ecosystems borders for population dynamics of both native and invasive species. What was evident is that new tools, new approaches, and new investigators have led to astonishing progress.
Insect pollinators were a topic throughout the event; not surprisingly, considering the importance of pollination for agriculture and thereby for human food production. The estimated annual value to the global economy of 235 to 577 billion USD (IPBES Report 2016) indicates just how important insect pollination is to modern agriculture. Although many of the crops providing most of our staple foods (e.g. cereals, maize, rice, potatoes) are not pollinated by insects, the yields of many other crops are dependent, at least to some extent, on pollination by insects or are improved by it (e.g. strawberries, almonds, apples). Various colleagues within the Bayer Bee Care community joined the event to learn from the experts and exchange on the important topic of pollination, and also honey bee and other insect pollinator health and safety topics.
Renowned scientists like Drs. Dennis VanEngelsdorp, Jamie Ellis and Robert Paxton reiterated that the Varroa mite (Varroa destructor), a deadly and dangerous bee parasite, and its associated mite-vectored viruses is the biggest threat to the health of the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera). VanEngelsdorp referred to ‘nuclear Varroa bombs’; initiated when Varroa from a colony that has broken down due to Varroa/Varroa-transmitted viruses infects others through drift or robbing from foragers of other hives from up to 2.5 km away. Ellis enlightened the audience on the development and evaluation of a broad and diverse range of novel technologies for improving honey bee colony health, including improved monitoring techniques, pathogen screening capabilities and breeding programs, new non-chemical and biological control methods and the essence of IPM, and technologies like GIS, RNAi and remote sensing. Paxton shared his observations that Black Queen Cell Virus (BQCV) and Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) are more prevalent when linked with high Varroa infestations, indicating that the largest predictor of overwintering mortality is the ‘B’ strain of DWV. With occurrences recorded predominantly in Europe so far, it is unclear how globally widespread this strain actually is. Dr. Daniel Schmehl, pollinator safety scientist at the Bayer North America Bee Care Center and a participant in ICE, comments enthusiastically: “One of the projects being funded as part of our Healthy Hives 2020 initiative is characterizing the prevalence of DWV strains in the USA and how these different strains, if present, contribute to honey bee colony overwintering losses. This project is innovative and very timely, with interim results expected later this year.” Healthy Hives 2020 is a major Bayer Crop Science initiative focused on finding tangible solutions that will improve the health of honey bee colonies in the United States by 2020.
Claudia Quaglierini and Christian Maus, among others, joined the event to learn from the experts and exchange on the important topic of pollination.
The session “Interactions between Pollination Services and Agricultural Practices” – organized by Prof. Décio Gazzoni from Embrapa (Londrina, Brazil) and members of A.B.E.L.H.A.’s Scientific Committee, and co-moderated by Dr. Christian Maus, Principal Scientist at the Bayer Bee Care Center in Monheim, Germany – attracted some 150 people throughout the session, giving a good holistic overview on the topic of pollination and pollinators. Topics ranged from pollinator health and safety in a crop protection context to pollinator ecology. Pollinators face a number of challenges in the modern world, and loss or structural changes of habitats was highlighted as the key one, followed by pests and diseases (mainly pathogens, but also insects and mites).
Other factors discussed were climate change, invasive species, and agricultural practices. Linked to the latter, the importance of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs and appropriate use of pesticides (according to good agricultural practice) were highlighted. The audience heard about the role of pollinators in food production and about pollinator-friendly farming approaches from Barbara Herren, formerly FAO, learned that pollinator diversity is important as dominance of honey bees may not lead to optimal pollination from Marcelo Aizen, University of San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, and received up-to-date information about potential effects of pesticides to pollinators and how they are addressed in regulatory risk assessment from Dr. Jens Pistorius, Julius-Kühn Institute, Germany. Moderating this discussion round, Dr. Maus summarized “There is clearly no ‘one fits all’ approach to pollination services and agricultural practices for that matter, with differences in climate, environmental factors, pests and diseases, and agronomic practices between the regions.” Following the session, participants were highly motivated to keep up the discussion on the important topic of integrating agriculture and pollination services, already contemplating on a next opportunity to meet.
This resonates well with our belief that broad cooperation is essential to develop better concepts to enhance pollinator health worldwide. Within our Bee Care Program, we work together with local country experts on concrete, specific projects in the area of ecology, honey bee health or pollination. Sustainable agriculture is one of the focus areas of the program, as we believe that crop protection and pollinator protection must go hand in hand to ensure enough quality food. Bayer is committed to finding even better concepts to enhance pollinator health worldwide – approaches of benefit to beneficial insects, human beings and the environment.