Hot or cold, rain or snow – there are always complaints about the weather, but an interdisciplinary team of West Virginia University scientists are studying whether the changes are having an impact on honey bees or other creatures that are an integral part of the food chain.

Scientists will investigate the effects of climate change on interactions among pollinating insects, the parasites that plague them and crops that depend on the pollinators to thrive.

“A major issue concerning current agricultural production is decline of pollinators like honey bees,” said Yong-Lak Park, an associate professor of entomology in WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. “With recent decline of honey bees, crop growers are turning to wild bee populations as alternative or supplemental pollinators. Effects of climate are particularly important when multiple species are dependent upon each other, as with the case of pollinators, their associated pests and crops.”

The team will also look at the effects of temperature changes on major biological events of bees, mites and blueberry crops using biophysical models.

“We will take advantage of recent technological advances in biophysical modeling, geospatial analyses and aerospace engineering to achieve the objectives,” Park explained.

A major aim of the WVU project is to understand the effects of temperature increase on the model system of bees, parasitic mites and blueberry plants. The team will expand their results to other agricultural production systems to conduct statewide or nationwide risk/benefit analyses under global warming scenarios proposed by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The risk/benefit analyses/maps will be used to provide recommendation for management of pollination under global warming.

In addition to Park, the principal investigators and collaborators are Nicole Waterland, an assistant professor of horticulture in the Davis College, Eungul Lee, assistant professor of geography in WVU’s Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, and Srikanth Gururajan, a post-doctoral fellow in mechanical and aerospace engineering in WVU’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. Youngsoo Son of the California Department of Food and Agriculture will provide geospatial analyses, and Pavel Klimov of the University of Michigan will focus on acarology.

In addition to the faculty personnel, two graduate students, two research staff, two pilots and a grower will be involved in this project. The project has been funded by a $150,000 grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.