Student Research Spotlight - Sarah Shugrue

Posted: July 6, 2015

This is the 10th of thirteen short news articles written by students, during the professional development class, about each other's research.

Orchard bee healthy
by Aine O’Sullivan

Who are the best pollinators? Most people would answer “honey bees”, but would be surprised to find out that at least in the case of apples trees they are wrong. Osmia cornifrons, commonly known as the Japanese orchard bee, increases fruit yield in apple orchards by five times as compared to the honey bee.

Yet little is known about the survival commercially of the Japanese orchard bee.  Sarah Shugrue, a first year master’s student at Penn State, is exploring the effects of pesticides in the foods of these bees.  

Shugrue aims to establish the effect of neonicotenoids (the most common of the pesticides sprayed on apple orchards) on adult and juvenile orchard bees.  

“Neonicotenoids are systemic pesticides which means that they are taken into the plant tissues, including pollen and nectar, which bees feed on and give to their young,” she said. Her goal is to see whether the amount of pesticides in the pollen and nectar that these bees are eating in real apple orchards is harming their health.

The Japanese orchard bee was originally brought to the US in 1977 by USDA scientists to pollinate apple orchards. These bees are solitary nesters that dwell in holes in wood and, therefore, need very little management. Because of their high efficacy and low maintenance, they are very attractive pollinators for apple orchards and have become commercially available.  

For honey bees, there are established guidelines and acceptable pesticide application schedules in order to minimize their exposure to potentially harmful pesticides. However, these do not exist yet for the Japanese orchard bee.

“The policy for use of solitary bees is still developing,” Shugrue said. Her main goal is to help inform policy makers about the use of this bee as a pollinator of apple orchards.

A well-informed compromise could be the answer. Shugrue describes one field experiment done by her lab with a neonicotenoid used to get rid of stink bugs, a common apple pest: “By spraying orchards [with neonicotenoids] four days earlier we were able to reduce the amount of pesticide in the pollen and nectar which reduces the harm to the bees, but still keeps stink bugs away”
Sarah intends to influence new regulations on pesticides with regards to the Japanese orchard bee. She says, “We’ve already made contact with policy makers and are hoping to share the information with them to protect pollinators and help farmers.”