80 Dr. Christina Mogren – Bees in Hawaii (in English)

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Speaker 1: From the Oregon State University Extension Service, this is Pollination, a podcast that tells the stories of researchers, land managers, and concerned citizens making bold strides to improve the health of pollinators. I'm your host, Dr. Adoni Melopoulos, assistant professor in pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture. I know it's the bleak midwinter in Oregon right now, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to take a little trip over to Hawaii.

That's right. We're going to Hawaii today to talk with Chrissy Mogren, who is an assistant researcher of pollinator ecology at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. In this episode, we're going to peer into the strange and interesting world of the bees of Hawaii. Talk about how recent volcanic activity may have affected bees and mused over my favorite topic. How do you do pollinator extension to a broad and diverse audience?

In some ways, Dr. Mogren and I have parallel appointments, her and Hawaii, and me and Oregon. So you can hear a little bit about that, which reminds me, we're coming up to the early registration deadline for the Pacific Northwest Pollinator Summit and Conference. This is a conference for people who really want to put initiatives on the ground. So if you're interested in extension or education and outreach in the Pacific Northwest, you really need to come to this conference. It runs from the 14th to the 16th of February.

Early registration ends January 12th, and there's a link to the registration in the show notes. I'm here with Chrissy Mogren. We are at the Anthemological Society of America.

We've had a couple of interviews and conversations in between the sessions. Welcome to pollination. Thank you so much for inviting me. I was so intrigued.

I think I heard you talking, or you were moderating a session, and I overheard you talking. It's like, oh, you're a pollinator extension person like me, but you were in the most remarkable places to do that, Hawaii.

Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely. So I am. I am an assistant researcher at the University of Hawaii. My appointment is 60% research and 40% extension. On my position title, I'm a specific to pollinator ecology. So the extension portion of my position is specific to pollinator ecology and pollination issues across the state of Hawaii.

Speaker 1: Now Hawaii has a funny, we were talking just before we started the interview, but it's a funny place because it didn't really have a lot of bees. There's not a lot of native bees to Hawaii.

Speaker 2: That's correct. So it's a pretty unique system. It is an island out in the middle of the Pacific. So the major pollinators that we had in the system, a lot of the plants evolved with bird pollinators and also beetle pollinators. There's only one native genus of bee, and that's hylaeus.

So our yellow-faced bees, seven are now federally listed as endangered, but they have very close associations with native plants. And so nowadays with so much development on the islands, you tend to see them in coastal areas or also in relatively undisturbed mountain areas. We tend to not see them in home gardens or in agricultural areas for better or worse, since those are the associations, you know, or those are the areas where you'll find them.

But when we talk about pollinators from more of an anthropocentric standpoint, we refer to pollination services and beekeeping, we're referring to our introduced bees. So we've got 19 total in the state of Hawaii. They've come from all over the world. We've got one from Europe, some from North America, Asia and Pacific Islands. And one of those, of course, is the honeybee.

Speaker 1: Okay, so when it comes to the hylaeus, is it just, is it kind of like, you know, the birds in the Easter Island or, you know, in the Galapagos, there's like, they're not just all little black specks, they're, do they come in a bunch of different forms or what are these hylaeus like?

Speaker 2: They look like hylaeus.

Speaker 1: They all just look like hylaeus. There's not one with a nose, like a spoon.

Speaker 2: I mean, they're kind of like Darwin's finches to an extent. You know what I mean? You know, one made it over and then we did have this radiation. We say there's about 70 species. We know that some are now extinct. Maybe 60 are currently extant.

Speaker 1: There's 60 species of hylaeus? Yes. That's insane.

Speaker 2: And then the only native bees to Hawaii. Wow. And they do, I mean, they're, you know, they have yellow faces and those are going to be different between different species. But you know, they've got, like I said, close associations with native plants. So I mean, you'll see some on the silver swords on the big islands. We see them in remnant habitats that have, you know, native myoporum, Nalpaca is one of our native Hawaiian plants. You see them with those long coastal areas. So yeah.

Speaker 1: That is so cool. Okay. So I, as listeners know, I worked in Western Canada for a long time and for years we got, and we still do, get a lot of our queens from Hawaii. It's a great place to make queens.

Speaker 2: It is. It's actually the largest queen producer area in the world. Most of our breeders are located on the big island and it's an industry worth about $10 million a year.

So, you know, no small contributor to our state agricultural economy, but they do. They're shipping their queens back to the mainland United States as well as Canada. So about 30% of their bees are going to mainland US. 70% actually come here to Canada.

Speaker 1: Oh yeah. I guess we're in Canada.

Speaker 2: I was like, I'm in Oregon right now. No, I'm not. I'm in Vancouver. Okay. So they've recently, we, you know, not recently, it's going on a few years now. They used to be one of the only areas of the Varroa mites and now for a while now it's had a Varroa, but it's not throughout all the islands.

That's right. So Hawaii is unique in that not the whole state has to deal with issues with Varroa. So they were first introduced to Oahu in 2007 and then made it over to the big island in 2008. It certainly had devastating consequences for honeybees in the state. Up until that point, you know, feral colonies were very common throughout the islands.

Now you see much fewer of those on Oahu in the big island, although you still see them on the other islands because the other islands are Varroa free. That creates its own, you know, obviously, you know, benefits than also some negatives. So our queen breeders in the state are so important for the rest of the United States, but it's actually very difficult to ship those queens to other islands. They have to undergo a lengthy inspection because, you know, they're moving from Varroa positive to Varroa negative areas. And so that makes it difficult for beekeepers on the other islands. They're basically doing their own, you know, selective breeding for their own, you know, local stocks within their apiaries to get, you know, the bees that are easiest to work with really good honey collection and then also, you know, degree of, you know, not necessarily disease resistance, but able to, you know, withstand, you know, background levels of infections.

Speaker 1: Okay. The other thing just like the rest of the world, I imagine Hawaii also has a lot of people who are interested in beekeeping because it's so, you know, you get a lot of enjoyment out of it as a hobby. Is that the case in Hawaii?

Speaker 2: Absolutely. You know, we've got, when we talk about commercial operations are much smaller than on the mainland. So a commercial operator for us that's rearing for honey production maybe only has a couple hundred hives. You know, a lot of our beekeepers are sideliners, you know, maybe just have a dozen hives or so. You know, they may also be farmers and so they use it as a supplemental form of income.

And then they may also be hobbyists. Unfortunately, we do have variable county regulations. So Honolulu County, which is the island of Oahu is the only place where backyard beekeeping is allowed. So in areas zoned residential, I know, and throughout the rest of the state, residential beekeeping is not allowed. So there are options though to place, you know, your personal hives in agriculturally zoned areas. There are also opportunities for conditional use permits that can be acquired from county planning offices, but it is kind of a problem, you know, because people, you know, in Hawaii, just like anywhere else are interested in helping the bees and conserving pollinator populations.

So, you know, some of the counties, you know, I've done some work with the county of Hawaii, which is the Big Island. They are working on updating their ordinance to allow for residential beekeeping. And that was, you know, really a push from the Big Island Beekeepers Association to start, you know, changing these local laws. So there is, you know, a lot of local interest and hopefully beekeepers on the other islands will start organizing as well to, you know, start updating their county codes and being able to legally keep bees residentially, hobbyist purposes.

Speaker 1: And anytime, I guess, that's all great and that sounds a lot happening. And I do know anytime you have a lot of new people coming into beekeeping, they have real educational needs. Is this, how are you, how are you dealing with the educational needs in Hawaii? Absolutely.

Speaker 2: We definitely have some, some big educational gaps with regards to beekeeping knowledge in the state. One of the reasons for that is that we've got some significant barriers to travel. You know, you've got to fly if you want to get to the different islands.

Speaker 1: Oh, right.

Speaker 2: You just can't drive like we would from Corvallis to Madras. I mean, we do have an interstate system, but interstate is relative because you're really not driving far with that.

But no, exactly. And so, you know, we've got issues of people who are interested in beekeeping who may have, you know, not necessarily have access to a broad local knowledge or there may not be local individuals offering, you know, beekeeping classes. And while it's my responsibility with an extension appointment to help address those needs, you know, I can't be everywhere.

I can't do it all. So one of the things that, you know, as I start my program, I'm very interested in reaching out to the master gardeners. Wonderful group of volunteers. We've got them established in all four counties. And so I'm working on an advanced online training for them.

They can get all the basic information that they need about bees and home gardening, gardening for bees in Hawaii. Oh, great. And then use that. And, you know, they can kind of be the beginning, you know, group for that. So then they can reach out to the, you know, members on their islands and start getting, you know, these little bits of information available. Building on the success of that, I'd like to create an online course for beekeepers in the state.

So mostly geared towards beginning and then maybe also include materials for more advanced beekeepers. Have this be science-based. Give them, you know, we also don't necessarily have the same treatment options for Varroa and Hawaii as are available in other states. So, you know, be able to present them with the best available current information on Varroa management, different types of disease management, you know, top bar hives, Kenya hives and holistic beekeeping are very popular in the state. And so being able to present, you know, pros and cons of that pros and cons of conventional beekeeping. And then my hope is that, you know, people who are offering hands-on classes for sale in different, you know, different areas, you know, can maybe request that people view this online material and then they can get hands-on beekeeping experience with these people.

Speaker 1: That's the best way to do it is like you've kind of absorbed it. You've sort of let it percolate in your head and then you open a colony.

Speaker 2: Exactly, exactly. You know, we can still give them like good videos. We can give them good images so they know what they're looking at up front and then they can get the local experience from people who are, you know, have successful beekeeping operations regardless of how they choose to manage, you know, throughout the state.

And then people can, you know, make their own decisions, you know, further, you know, following their own beliefs, but then, you know, their own personal preferences for how they believe, you know, they can be successful. Okay.

Speaker 1: All right. That's great. Well, let's take a quick break and we'll come back in a minute. All right. We are back. So I just kind of curious you get keeping being. in Hawaii, don't you have like lava flowing all over the place once in a while?

Speaker 2: Once in a while, yes. So we just finished with a really devastating eruption actually, the lower Puna eruption of Kilauea. The Puna district of the Big Island, certainly, I mean, it covered a neighborhood, thousands of homes were lost. It was also a pretty, you know, significant area for agricultural production. So a lot of the state's papaya industry was destroyed.

But there were also impacts to bees. You know, when you have these types of eruptions, you're releasing a lot of volcanic gases and ash. That's something we refer to as Vogue in the state. So kind of like volcanic smog. Vogue. We have bad Vogue days. The wind blows the wrong way. We get Vogue, you know, in the rest

Speaker 1: of the islands. Only Hawaii have Vogue days. Okay. All right. And unfortunately, not a whole lot is known with regards to the effects of volcanic activity on honey bees. You know, from work that others have done in other countries of the world that experience this, what we do know is that the ash itself can impair mobility of honey bees. So when it gets between, you know, their turga or like their, if you think about, you know, the insect exoskeleton as like a plate of armor, you know, it gets in between those plates and then affects their ability to move. In addition to the mechanical effects that it may have on, you know, the ability of the bees to move, when the ash falls onto flowers and they collect that, you know, and then they feed that to the young, that can actually kind of serve a diatomaceous earth type effect. So it lacerates their insides.

So you know that the larvae may be affected. And additionally, you know, it's unclear what impact this has on bees specifically, but a lot of the plants, a lot of the coffee in the area, we know is taking up a lot of sulfur from the air during the eruption. And it's unclear if some of these flowers that are visited by honey bees may start expressing more sulfur in the pollen.

And if that could maybe be a deterrent to the honey bees, whether that adulterates the honey that they're collecting at that point in time. And unfortunately, those are answers we are questions we just don't have the answers to. And finally, you know, we had a lot of seismic activity with that. We had earthquakes that could be felt, you know, 1000 miles away. And, you know, when you have those, according to one beekeeper on Maui, it turned into Sting Central.

Speaker 2: So bees don't like volcanoes either. Wow.

Speaker 1: This is just like a Varroa Vogue and pissy bees. Exactly. Crabby bees. Okay. Sounds great. I'm coming. Okay. All right. So the other thing is, you know, when we're talking about crop pollination on the mainland, you're dealing with a whole bunch of cool crops out there that we don't know out here, like coffee, for example. Exactly.

Speaker 2: So we do have some really cool crops that were grown here in Hawaii. Many depend upon pollination services. We mentioned coffee and macadamia nuts are another huge orchard crop in the state.

They're lovely when they're chocolate covered. But, you know, in both of those cases, you know, the crops themselves are to a degree self compatible. But we know that we do receive huge boosts in yield when honeybees at the very least are present to perform pollination services. Some of our other crops that require pollination are mango.

A mango however is pollinated by flies. Cacao, cacao from Hawaii is the rarest chocolate in the world. We only have 120 acres or so that are actually in production. We're the only state where the climate is suitable for growing chocolate. And it is pollinated by a midge. It's called the chocolate midge. There is a species native to South America that takes care of pollination where cacao is native. We happen to have a very closely related species in the state. And so when they brought over cacao, it happens to, you know, fulfill those services, which is awesome.

Speaker 1: Everybody's like midges. They're like midges or associated with chocolate. Exactly.

Speaker 2: A special midge, the chocolate midge. The chocolate midge. That's so hilarious. Okay. All right. Yeah. Chocolate. We've got macadamia nuts. We've got coffee.

Speaker 2: We've got mango. So papaya is actually a self-compatible crop. So that doesn't require pollination. But q-curbits are another big crop. So cucumber, melons, a number of melons, like watermelon, and also some of the Asian varieties are very popular in the state.

Speaker 1: Hawaiian melons must be delicious.

Speaker 2: They are. They are delicious. Just imagine. I know, right? That's farm to table. But, you know, so they do require pollination. If you were somewhere on the mainland, you would be receiving services from the, you know, bees in the genus Pepinapis. Oh, right. We do not have those squash bees.

They have not yet at least been introduced to the state. So honeybees are going to be the, you know, the greatest contributor to pollination of those crops. Unfortunately, there are also a number of pests that attack them, and it makes open field production nearly impossible, particularly for organic producers. And there is a huge interest in sustainable ag and organic production in the state.

So a project that I hope to be working on in the near future is collaborating with other people in the College of Tropical Agriculture at UH, and looking at ways that we can incorporate pollinators into what we call protected agriculture. So, you know, growing cucumbers inside of a screen house. It's not a greenhouse. Same idea, but you use a screen.

We don't need to trap warmth in Hawaii. But finding ways that we can, you know, start incorporating pollinators into those setups to ensure pollination, you know, and otherwise really, you know, pest intensive crops. And I guess another really fun one is, you know, lilycoy or passion fruit.

That is a big crop in the state as well, kind of a specialty crop. They have, if you ever, you know, Google a picture of the flower, their anthers and their stigma are upside down, actually. And so what they require is a pretty chubby bee to get in there so the back will touch the anthers and transfer that pollen to the stigma. Honeybees, while they will visit the flowers, they're not chubby enough.

So we actually rely upon carpenter bees. It's actually a species, Ilycopa sonora that had been introduced from Arizona back in the late 1800s. And that's the only pollinator we currently have for lilycoy in the state. So, you know, we've been hearing a number of talks here at this meeting, individuals speaking to the potential for viruses to jump from honeybees to other solitary bee species. We have seen, or, you know, anecdotally anyway, we've had some farmers remark upon the fact that they're seeing, or they're not getting lilycoy fruit set or they're seeing fewer carpenter bees. And so, you know, the prevailing hypothesis is that a virus may have switched over and is now impacting our carpenter bee populations. But that's an area that, you know, is, it's going to need some further research to figure out.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Wow. Okay. Well, this is a, I just, you blew my minds with like, it's probably the only predominantly carpenter bee pollinated crop in America.

Speaker 2: It could be. They tend to rob. They tend to be, you know,

Speaker 1: you always feel like, yeah, they're robbing blueberries and stuff like that. So, yeah, they can't rob a, or I said, Mayflower, Maypop. That's what they're called in the Southern U.S., where, you know, passionflower is also native. But the regular variety we grow, yes, they're the only thing that can pollinate it. It's an open flower, astro-style open flower.

So, it's pretty easy for them to get in there without robbing and still perform a service. Sounds fascinating. Well, let's take a quick break and we'll come back and we've got a couple of questions to ask you. We ask all our guests these questions. All right. Okay. We are back. So, book. Do you have a book that you like or would recommend to people?

Speaker 2: Absolutely. One of my favorites to recommend for people who don't necessarily have a science background but are interested in pollinators. It's a book by the Xerces Society, Farming for Native Beneficial Insects. It puts a lot of great information on sustainable production and how you can enhance the environment for pollinators. And, you know, the themes that are discussed are applicable anywhere. So, insert your plant species here and you too can provide great habitat for pollinators and beneficials in your home garden or on your farm.

Speaker 1: I think with that vote, you've, you know, it was always the most popular book recommended by guests. But I think you've, like, pushed it, like, into, like, the stratosphere. It's got the lead by a wide margin. Great, great recommendation. Well, thank you. So, the next question we ask people is for the kind of work that you do in a very peculiar place that you are, is there a favorite go-to tool that you like to use?

Speaker 2: I would have to say it's going to be my smartphone. Oh, yeah. So, I mean, the camera is phenomenal. And what's great about that is I, you know, do a lot of work, you know, posting pictures and videos online for master gardeners and others. Being able to take good quality zoomed in pictures, it's in my back pocket. Whenever I need it, I see a pollinator.

I can whip it out and get a great picture. So, I mean, of course, the tools of the beekeeping trade, but I have to say as far as, you know, public impact, it's definitely my smartphone.

Speaker 1: You know, we had an episode a while back, Travis Owen, the amateur anthocologist, and he, he said he's got this camera. But a lot of the picture is because he's, he's also a beekeeper.

And so he'll have this phone and it's like, if you see a wild plant and a weird pollinator, you're there. Exactly. Whip that thing out. Whip it out and get it because then it's gone. Right. Okay. Last question is, is there a pollinator that you love?

Speaker 2: Well, I've got to say in Hawaii, you know, we don't have too many bees, but I really love it when I come across Serratina's Maraggula. The name is ridiculous. Love that. But it's a small carpenter bee. They're kind of, they're bright green metallic. They're small. They're lumpy.

Yes. And so they're lumpy. They've got little pits all over. You get close up and they've got little pits all over their exoskeleton. Yeah. Like on the thorax? Thorax. Yes. The thorax on the abdomen as well. They're, they're super funny looking.

Speaker 1: And we got to get a picture. We're going to link this on the show notes listeners. I can't picture it. It sounds like a stegosaurus of the, not quite that.

Speaker 2: It's not horny. It's just lumpy. Okay.

Speaker 2: Oh, lumpy. Okay. Lumpy. Okay. But no, they're just super cool. And, you know, it's always exciting when master gardeners find one because they think it's green. It's bright, it's bright green. What is this?

Like, it's cool guys. It's a carpenter bee. Unlike other parts of the mainland US, our, all of our introduced bees happen to nest in stems. And so when you build bee hotels.

Speaker 1: Of course they're because they get shipped around the, that's how they get shipped there. It's probably on some kind of piece of wood.

Speaker 2: Probably. It's how they all get interviewed. They all pop out and say, Hey, why? This is nice place. Hey, I'm loving it here. Exactly. You know, so all of our introduced bees had to happen to be stem nesting. So, but this is one when you build bee hotels, you know, it's one that people see. It's bright.

It's exciting. You know, obviously they're performing pollination services. I have seen them in some of our endangered plants.

Ohio is one of them. It's a Hawaiian plant occurring on the coast and I was out there working on a project this summer with an undergrad and I saw seratina going into that flower. So I got real excited to see, you know, introduced bee, but pollinating an endangered plant. So fantastic.

Speaker 1: Well, thank you for giving us a little bit of Hawaiian warmth in the middle of winter here in pollination. Thank you. Mahalo aloha. Thanks so much for listening. Show notes with information discussed in each episode can be found at pollinationpodcast.oregonstate.edu. We'd also love to hear from you and there are several ways to connect. For one, you can visit our website to post an episode-specific comment, suggest a future guest or topic, or ask a question that can be featured in a future episode. You can also email us at [email protected]. Finally, you can tweet questions or comments or join our Facebook or Instagram communities. Just look us up at OSU pollinator health. If you like the show, consider letting iTunes know by leaving us a review or rating.

It makes us more visible, which helps others discover pollination. See you next week.

Dr. Mogren is an assistant researcher of pollinator ecology at University of Hawaii Manoa, with a research program focused on how nutrition can be used to increase pollinator health to mitigate stress caused by pesticides, parasites, and disease. After receiving her PhD in Entomology from UC Riverside, she went on to two postdoctoral positions with the USDA-ARS in Brookings, SD and the LSU AgCenter in Baton Rouge, LA. She currently serves the beekeeping community of Hawaii with a 60% research and 40% extension appointment.

Listen in to learn the relationship of pollinators with native flora and fauna of Hawaii, and what is being done to aid local agriculture and beekeeping.

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“A lot of the plants [in Hawaii] evolved with bird and beetle pollinators, there’s only one native genus of bee.” – Dr. Christina Mogren

Show Notes:

  • What kinds of pollinators are native to Hawaii
  • How their isolation on the island has affected the evolution of Hawaii’s only native bee
  • Why Hawaii is one of the leading places to grow queens
  • What makes Hawaii’s relationship with varroa unique
  • How Christina is developing educational resources for Hawaiian residents interested in beekeeping
  • How the volcanic activity affects pollinators
  • Some of the unique crops that Hawaii hosts
  • How having pollinators present influences the crop yield
  • The problems that some of the local crop present that could be solved with other bee species

“We have a lot of seismic activity, and when you have those, it turns into sting central. Bees don’t like volcanoes either.” – Dr. Christina Mogren

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