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Enhancing pollinator conservation efforts in agricultural systems

Enhancing pollinator conservation efforts in agricultural systems

by Briann Dorin, PhD Candidate

Briann Dorin on fieldwork in Niagara region

Pollinators provide an essential ecosystem service in the form of pollinating ~87% of global flowering plant species and further pollinating 87 of the leading global food crops. One of the major groups of pollinating organisms are bees - travelling from flower to flower collecting pollen and nectar for food. And though honey bees, Apis mellifera, are quite well known for their role in pollination, many are unaware of the breadth and diversity of bees native to Canada. Canada is home to ~800 bee species which vary in size, flight ranges, flower preferences, nesting sites and materials, and other important traits. Each of these species holds an important ecological role, however, declines have been documented for several bee species attributed to various factors including habitat loss and degradation, climate change, pesticide exposure, and disease spread and competition with managed bees such as honey bees.

Bee clover in vineyard

With several of the threats facing bees occurring in agricultural landscapes, a significant amount of research has aimed to better understand how we can conserve and promote bees in these lands. Yet, this research has mainly focused on a select few crops which are highly dependent on bees for their pollination services. Less research has been done in crops that are not pollinator-dependent, despite research showing that certain agroecosystems better sustain wild bee abundance and diversity compared to others. One such under-studied crop is the wine-grape (Vitis vinifera L.) and the vineyard practises that benefit pollinator populations and diversity. No studies addressing this topic have occurred in Canada despite Canada having several major grape growing regions - with vineyards ranking in the top 3 fruit crops by acreage.

Sampling in the Niagara vineyards

My research aims to determine the impact of vineyard management practises and surrounding land-use variables on wild bee abundance and diversity in Niagara, ON vineyards. The vineyard management practises I will be studying include organic vs conventional farming and the type of between-row management that is used such as tillage, cover-cropping, and mowing frequency. As some bees can forage quite far from their nest sites, I will also be looking at the landscape composition surrounding my vineyard sites which will include the percentage of natural lands, various crop types, impervious surfaces, and water. Lastly, agroecological research questions should also consider the human-side of food production, so later in my studies I plan to survey and interview grape growers to better understand the concerns, motivations, and barriers regarding the implementation of pollinator-friendly vineyard management practises.

This past summer was my first field season, collecting bees in 20 vineyards across the Niagara Region. I worked with several grape growers to select sites that varied in their surrounding landscape composition and their vineyard management practises. Bees were collected May-August and I am now focused on processing and identifying the bees. I am extremely grateful for all the growers that helped me conduct this research on their properties this past summer and I look forward to the next stage of my research - learning more from grape growers about their vineyard management and the potential for the wide-spread adoption of various pollinator-friendly practises.

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Briann Dorin has an HBSc in Wildlife Biology and Conservation from the University of Guelph and while completing this degree, she worked for the University of Guelph’s Crop Science department and OMAFRA’s Tender Fruit and Grape department. She then completed an MSC in Plant Sciences, Viticulture, and Oenology at Brock University researching remote sensing in Niagara vineyards. She is currently on the Entomological Society of Canada’s Science-Policy Committee and during her masters degree, she was part of the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club’s Pollinator Paradise Initiative. She has received an NSERC scholarship for 3 years of her PhD program and was a recipient of the Entomological Society of Canada’s Bert and John Carr Award as well as York’s Research and Fieldwork Cost Fund to help fund her research.

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