Yes, There’s an App for That.

Dr. Bryan Danforth was eager to develop a long term monitoring program to understand if wild pollinator numbers are changing. NY apple growers are concerned that challenges in the commercial honeybee industry might limit their ability to rent hives. They need to know if wild bees are an effective alternative to honey bees. A smart phone app built by the project allows growers, extension agents and citizen scientists to achieve both goals.

This article was developed for NYFVI’s 2017 annual report. To learn more about the ap and ongoing work visit northeastpollinatorpartnership.com

New York has over 400 species of wild bees and Danforth’s research had documented a fauna of over 120 species just in apple orchards. Moreover, wild pollinators have been shown to be more effective pollinators on a per-visit basis than honey bees, and their abundance and diversity is positively correlated with seed set in apples. Approximately half of NY apple growers rent honey bee hives but is this necessary for successful apple pollination?

Growers see wild bees in their blossoms, but haven’t had a way to measure and track `their numbers. For growers to know whether wild bees can provide an effective alternative to honeybees, they needed a way to easily collect and quantify their numbers.

Danforth and his team had been collecting data at New York orchards using aerial netting and were eager for a better system. In 2014, they received a NYFVI grant to build a smart phone app that allowed growers to capture the number of pollinators in their orchards, share the information to an online database, and receive customized information back from the team.

The project’s first step was to validate the data collection process, ensuring that the numbers collected via the app were consistent with current aerial net collection processes. From there, the team could define how the app needed to work and develop detailed instructions to ensure standardize data collection.  Participants are asked to conduct simple 5 minute observations, three times during peak bloom. Date, time, weather and GPS coordinates are all collected as well as pest management practices and bloom stage.

Users can watch a short video to learn how to use the app, they are also quizzed on how to correctly identify various types of pollinators. One of the first steps in learning how to use the ap is to be able to distinguish betwee wild pollinators and honey bees.

At the project’s completion data had been collected in 43 orchards across 20 counties with 298 data points collected. Orchards with conventional, organic and integrated pest management practices have all participated. Extensive outreach has been conducted and the number of farmers using the app is expected to continue to grow.

Each of the participating orchards receives a customize report providing benchmark information about the pollinators in their orchard. Recommendations about how many bee hives, if any should be used as well as ways to attract more wild bees to the orchards.

“Thanks to Dr Danforth’s science, we can now make better decisions on how to work closely with “mother nature” and be better farmers.”

Peter Ten Eyck, Indian Ladder Farms

During the 2016 pilot season, the app confirmed a relationship between the proportion of native bees in conventional and IPM orchards previously established through aerial netting collection practices. Of the nine orchards studied, those with conventional practices had fewer wild pollinators.

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