55 Mimi Jenkins – Watermelon Pollination: How native bees affect watermelon crops


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 was really delighted when I moved to Oregon to discover hermit and watermelons. They have to be the most delicious watermelons I've ever eaten in my life. This prompted me to think a little bit about the pollination biology of watermelons, and I was really excited to connect with Mimi Jenkins. Now, Mimi is a Ph.D. candidate at Clemson University, and she's studying how wildflowers in watermelon fields affect the diversity and crop pollination services by native bees back to watermelon. Now, Mimi works with watermelon growers not here in Oregon, but in coastal and central South Carolina. But it's a great episode just to understand some of the unique challenges associated with pollinating watermelon and some of the general features of putting habitat restoration into agricultural fields in general. Also, there's a bit of a discussion about this phenomenon we don't face here in Oregon, squash bees, and the close association in some parts of the U.S. between growing squash and getting watermelon pollination. It's a great episode, and I'm just salivating and waiting for those pollination events to occur so I can get those watermelons into my fridge. Hope you enjoy the episode. Welcome to Pollination, Mimi.

Speaker 2: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

Speaker 1: I'm really excited to have you on the show. We've got a watermelon industry in Oregon. There are watermelons across the United States. And just to set up this episode, what are the pollination requirements of watermelons? What makes the perfect watermelon from a pollination standpoint?

Speaker 2: Yeah, so watermelon is one of those crops that's entirely dependent on pollinators in order to set fruit. It's a Manisha's plant, so it basically has separate male and female flowers on the same plant. Yeah, the male flowers typically greatly outnumber those female flowers in the commercial varieties up to seven to one in that ratio.

And they're going to appear first. They're going to open first, and then the female flowers will open a little bit later. So in order for that pollen from the male flower to get to the female flower for fertilization and fruit development to occur, you need a nature that would be an insect pollinated that would move that pollen over from the male flower to the female flower. If you don't have sufficient pollination occurring, basically that results in misshapen fruits and just poor quality fruit and poor yields. And that's obviously bad news for growers, bad news for the public that really loves watermelon.

Which includes me. Yeah. I'm a huge watermelon fan. Me too.

Yeah. My happiness is my favorite fruit by far. So it's a perk of the job to get watermelon.

Yeah. And then in terms of pollen deposition, different bee species have different effectiveness in terms of how much pollen they're able to deposit on a single watermelon flower. But typically a female watermelon flower will need about 500 to 1,000 pollen grains in order to set up a good watermelon fruit. And honey bees, that means typically around the range of eight visits to set that amount of pollen onto the female flower, the stigma. But for other bees like bumblebees, they've shown in previous research that that could be done in maybe one or two visits tops. So it really just depends on the bees. And then some other small bees, some of these tiny sweat bees and seating, also are kind of in the range of what honey bees are able to deposit, even though they're so much smaller than honey bees.

It's interesting. But yeah, it really just depends on the bee, probably morphology and size and the amount of hair on their body and things like that in terms of how much pollen they're able to deposit in a single visit.

Speaker 1: Can you describe the male and the female flower? I have to admit, I've never seen a watermelon flower before. So what does a bee confronted with when they fly up to these flowers?

Speaker 2: Yeah, they're both yellow, kind of a pale yellow, small flower, I don't know, maybe like an inch across in diameter. They're typically known as kind not that attractive of a crop flower, especially because they are other cucumber bits. Yeah, they're typical, if you think of another cucumber, like a squash flower or something, it's a huge, you know, beautiful flower, presenting a whole ton of pollen and nectar. Watermelon is very different from that. It's a very small flower. It's not super showy. It's not presenting a whole ton of pollen or nectar. So it's interesting that these still pollinate and still forage on it. But yeah.

Speaker 1: OK, that's OK. That's good to know. It's an I didn't know I never knew that I thought it was like a squash that's super attractive, so these are not they don't it's not the best place to go.

Speaker 2: Yeah, it's sort of I don't know. And maybe just because there isn't much in the landscape, that's sort of what they are exposed to, that's what they go with what they have. But. Mm hmm.

Speaker 1: OK, so I noticed I went to the store the other last summer and there's a lot of like seedless varieties of watermelons. It seems like this has become more and more popular. Watermelons are changing. They're smaller. How does this change the pollination demands of watermelons? Yeah, so.

Speaker 2: The seedless varieties have become really popular, especially in the United States, certainly enough, not as much elsewhere in the world for whatever reason. But the seedless variety really started to become popular in the 1990s. And basically in order to answer your question, I have to go back a little bit and say that the seedless variety is kind of this freak of nature through the magic of plant breeding and technology. We're able to produce this seedless crop, which is just sort of a bizarre thing, but good for people who don't like to have to be spitting out seeds. I love the seeds, by the way. Oh, you do. Oh, OK.

Speaker 1: I'd like to chew on them. Anyway, I'm weird that way. I'm not the market people are looking for.

Speaker 2: Some people actually roast the seeds and say they're really good. I didn't know that before, but.

Speaker 1: OK, freak of nature. Plant breeders have found a seedless variety for those of us who don't like the seeds.

Speaker 2: Yeah, and the seedless variety are triploids. Watermelon is normally diploid. So the seedless variety flowers, the male flowers, don't have viable pollen. So if you put out an entire field of seedless melons, you wouldn't actually get it. Sorry, seedless plants, you wouldn't get any melon.

Oh, wow. You have to have some of the field consisting of these diploid seeded varieties to provide that viable pollen so that the fruit is so that the female flowers are actually able to be fertilized.

Speaker 1: Oh, and the watermelon grower doesn't want those fruit. Well, they actually plants that are.

Speaker 2: Yeah, I'm not sure exactly what I think that they still do sell them. I mean, they end up planting up to like a third of their field with these. They call them pollenizers.

Using the pollenizer crop. It's confusing to me. And, you know, so they have a third of their total crop is this is the seeded variety, but basically, you know, they're still going to sell them to some people. They're still a market for those seeded melons in some parts of the country. You know, but yeah, so it's not really a super different need in terms of pollination. It's just a little more complicated.

Speaker 1: And I guess the plants have to used to be all on the same plant. Now, if the spacing is too much, I guess the bees may not. Does that make a difference?

Speaker 2: That's true. So what I've found is that typically they will plant either every third row. They'll plant a whole row of the pollenizer or every third plant. They'll plant a pollinizer. And so that, of course, will impact how close the male flowers with Bible pollen are to the female flowers. You know, and so you if you're planting every third row, you would be hoping that you'd get these that are, you know, moving a lot in between rows. Something like that. Some fees just sort of stick to a row or stick to very small areas within the field. So it really just depends on the grower's preference and sort of there, you know, how well their profit is getting pollinated, I guess, depending on which method they use.

Speaker 1: So let's let's move over into. So this really interesting. Thanks for giving us a pollination 101 on watermelon. Let's move over now. You talked a little bit about bumblebees and how different bees have different capacities for pollination. And there has been a number of, there's been a lot of interest in native bees and watermelons in other parts of the US. Can you tell us about who these bees are, and what their habitat requirements are? And, you know, are the bee communities that you see in South Carolina kind of similar to the ones that you find in the Northeast and California? Yeah.

Speaker 2: So in the Northeast, we do see a lot of the same species. And so in California, we see some of the same genera, but not the same species, which is something you would probably expect.

California is just very far and different climatically and everything geographically speaking. So yeah. So basically, you know, in the Northeast, they found a lot of names and patients, common, you know, the common Eastern bumblebee. They had a lot of Melisodes immaculate, the two-spotted long-horned bee, which we see a ton of in our fields as well. They have several species of Laceate Lawson that we also have in common, the same species. Then, you know, some of their kind of main players that they list, like Seratina Dupla and Aguaclera Pira, are kind of more of the oddballs in our field.

Like we see them every once in a great while, but not, certainly not commonly. And then they also have Pippa napis prunosa, the squash bee. And in our fields, and that's likely due to, you know, whether or not you've got squash plants nearby the watermelon, because that's an obligate pollen source, you know, for the squash bees or specialists on that. And I guess they will visit watermelon as just, you know, another nectar source or another pollen source potentially, but they absolutely need the squash flowers. So since we don't have squash flowers typically in here in the fields where I study, I've never seen a Pippa napis prunosa.

Speaker 1: Really? That is fascinating.

Speaker 2: Yeah. Yeah. I've seen it on squash. Some squash plantings are kind of near fields, but I guess, you know if there's just not a huge, you know, an abundance of those squash flowers nearby, you're not going to see Pippa names showing up on watermelon.

Speaker 1: Well, I suppose, and you know, that brings up the habitat requirement part. This is fascinating that if you had two crops side by side, you'd have this spillover effect of an obligate squash pollinator coming into pumpkin. I mean, it comes into watermelons. Yeah. Very cool finding.

Speaker 2: Yeah. I mean, that's my, that's my interpretation. There could be, you know, but it just seems really unlikely to that, you know, you'd be seeing squash be showing up on watermelon without any squash nearby because they need that. And they typically nest very close to squash plants. They're kind of right there. Okay.

Speaker 1: So we've got this, this bee community. It's kind of similar. It's missing a couple of key players as you come into South Carolina. Maybe let's take a break. I want to, I want to come back and want to figure out the implications of this and sort of what the growers, at least in South Carolina, coming out of your research, some recommendations they have for enhancing these pollinators. Okay.

Well, welcome back. So we were talking in the break about field crops like watermelons kind of posing a different problem for building habitat for these pollinators, native pollinators than a crop like an orchard crop, where you can, you have that habitat, the trees or the bushes are going to be there for a decade and you can sort of build pollinator community. What are some of the, can you kind of lay out some of the challenges of building pollinator habitat into a watermelon system? If you wanted to encourage these native pollinators, what are some of the considerations that people have to take into account? Sure.

Speaker 2: So typically it's recommended that watermelon growers rotate their fields every four to eight years, just because of the diseases and fungal diseases and nematodes and things like that, that really do show up a lot in watermelon. So to alleviate that pressure, they will, you know, suggest that growers, you know, rotate with other types of vegetable crops that aren't related or, you know, pasture or whatever. But what I'm finding in my area, at least in our region, is that there aren't that many, at least there are many growers that do not rotate. So they will, you know, just grow watermelon repeatedly on their field year after year. That might be because they're, you know, they're really specializing in growing watermelon, they don't grow anything else and maybe they just don't have the land availability or I'm not sure exactly why, but they just, I guess they just feel with it, try to deal with it as best they can with chemical, you know, different things. So for those growers, it's really not that different, I wouldn't say that an orchard or another crop that you just grow for a long period, long term in an area.

But if you are, say you are rotating, I still think that there's, you know, there's challenges, but there's definitely ways that you can do it. I mean, in our fields, for instance, in our study, we're just planting a wildflower strip, so four species of wildflowers that are native to the Southeast and in an area that's about 250 feet long and like three feet wide. So it's not an enormous area by any means. And the amount and diversity and abundance of pollinators that you see is just astonishing, just with that small amount of additional resources that you're providing the pollinators. And then at the end of the season, you can, you can mow that over or whatever, but you can even seed those wildflower seeds in the fall and then they'll come up in the spring. And so it should be fairly low maintenance, you know, and growers can take advantage of areas like ditches and edges of fields and areas that we just don't typically think of as, why don't we just, you know, broadcast some seed here in the fall and have some wildflowers and we don't need to be spraying herbicides everywhere to clear, you know, all, all the weedy flowers and potentially wildflowers that are sort of naturally there. You know, we can use those areas to provide that additional resource for bees and other pollinators. So there are challenges, but it's definitely possible and potentially even more cost-effective than dealing with, you know, dealing with these issues by spraying tons of herbicides and having to mow all the time. So.

Speaker 1: Can you tell us a little bit about these flowering strips? You were talking about the way that they could be incorporated into the production system is seeding them in the fall. Tell us how these are established and how the plants were selected and tell us a little bit about these flowering strips.

Speaker 2: Yeah. So, the flowers that we chose, I chose them because they're shouldn't drought resistant. They do really well in the hot and humid climate of the Southeast. They don't require a ton of water or irrigation. And they, they typically just are very hardy and they don't need a whole lot of maintenance, which is sort of the ideal situation for a farmer, for a grower. And, yeah, so I, I've been transplanting them into the fields mostly because I only have, you know, a couple of years to do the study.

I want to make sure that I do well. Um, and there is probably the major challenge is the competition between wheat and grasses that can take over. So I have seeded some of them just to see how that worked out. And I have planted in areas where there's sort of already kind of a strong weed pressure.

And for sure, you know, the weeds kind of take over, if you don't prepare the area properly with herbicides or, you know, do other things to, to cut down on that weed pressure, but they should be ideally very low maintenance and, and only beneficial to farmers and of course the pollinators. All right.

Speaker 1: So tell us a little bit about your study. What were you trying to measure? And I imagine it's really challenging to measure the effect of, you know, putting something like a flowering strip into a field and, you know, trying to track what it, what, what it's doing to the community over time. Tell us a little bit about that. Yeah. So.

Speaker 2: So really we're trying to provide sort of an easy, simple tool and not very costly tool for farmers to use that would benefit their ability to support wild bee communities that could be also beneficial to their crop, obviously, and pollinate their crop as well. So there's a lot of information out there in terms of suggestions from extension agencies and organizations saying you should plant these wildflower strips and hedgerows. And there's not a whole lot of data though that says this is for sure beneficial to the crop pollination services that the growers are getting. Of course, it makes logical sense that it would, but I've actually encountered growers that are not willing to work with me because they fear that the wildflower strips would be sort of stealing away the pollinators, especially with watermelon, as I said earlier, not being a super attractive crop, not a super showy flower. With these other wildflowers, we have choreopsis, tinctoria, for instance, and blanket flowers and things like that that are very showy and very good sources of food for bees that could be actually taking away from the pollination services to watermelon.

Speaker 1: This is great because I guess people have done it in things like almonds, but the almonds are super attractive. So you're like dealing with like the worst-case scenario.

Speaker 2: Okay, cool. And so I'm just trying to sort of flesh out, is that actually true? Are they having a beneficial effect on the watermelon crop pollination? Are they having a negative effect?

Is it a neutral effect? So that's sort of the main goal of our study. And then also, there's a huge dearth in just the knowledge of the wild bees that are in this region of the United States. There's not a whole lot of people studying them. Before we started this study, there was really no information that I could find about what the wild bees that pollinate crops and watermelons specifically are in South Carolina or the southern region of the United States.

So we've really fleshed out, what are the major pollinators of watermelon. And then, of course, from here on out, there's a lot more work that needs to be done. But that's been something that we've been able to accomplish as well.

Speaker 1: Okay, so you're kind of in the preliminary steps of evaluating whether they're having these beneficial effects. And you do, you have this challenge, I guess, is if you can prove it there, I mean, it makes a really good case for flowering strips and semi-attractive cropping system.

Speaker 2: Right, exactly. Yeah.

Speaker 1: Oh, this is really helpful. It's really useful. I guess the other thing that comes up is if the pollination, let's say the pollination effect is not super strong or there must be other beneficial effects of these flowering strips, it's not just the pollination services.

Speaker 2: Right. So that's a particular focus of my study. But I do collect, obviously, I collect the pollinating insects that are on the watermelon flowers, but I also collect the pollinating insects that are on the wildflowers. And sort of, from there, I can compare and contrast what species are showing up on watermelon versus the wildflowers and whether are they overlapping. And actually, we've now identified that 50 species are pollinating watermelon on our field, which is actually way more, yeah.

That's amazing. So in North Carolina and the Northeast, they found in the range of 30 to 40 species. So we're seeing 50, and that's not a huge number of fields. They actually had quite a few more fields in their studies than we did.

Speaker 1: Just to pick up on that, I was asking you about pest management, but this is really cool. So you're finding that there is, like, that's in the South, you're having more diversity in these fields.

Speaker 2: Yeah, in certain, you know, in our fields at least, and we have a total of 14 fields, primarily in the coastal region of South Carolina and a few in the central part of the state. And we're seeing a lot more diversity of these, not sorry, not a lot more, you know, 10 species more, but it's still an interesting finding. And like I said, we're seeing a lot of the same species as you see in the Northeast, a lot of the same genera that you see in California. But then we're also seeing other bees like leafcutter bees, you know, mega kyle, several species, like 10 species of mega kyle that they're not really showing up as much in the Northeast. And a ton of the Lacea gloss and others I could go on the long-horned bees are really showing up on four species of bumblebees that we see in our fields frequently, including the American bumblebee, Bombus pennsylvanicus, which yeah, it's really good to see that be, especially because it's known to be a bee that's geographic range has just been hugely reduced in the past decade or so. And it's a species of concern. And so, you know, it's probably the American bumblebee use that enormous geographic range in North America, but now it's just reduced to a small area. So it's really good to see those showing up on all things on watermelon. It's just sort of bizarre. And on our wildflower flowers as well.

Speaker 1: Are you seeing, because I often think about like for farmers who do wildflower strips, there is the benefit to pollination. But I do wonder if you can also show that they have conservation benefits beyond like they can sell themselves as being bee friendly and that you would attract pollinators that wouldn't normally come to the crop and you would be able to because they're really good at planning things. Growers know how to get things to come up out of the ground.

Speaker 2: Yeah, they are. They are. Yeah, so the wildflowers, typically will bring in a whole suite of pollinators, butterflies, you know, things that aren't necessarily going to be visiting the watermelon crop, but a lot that will visit the watermelon crop as well. And that provides, you know, that important resource beyond just that relatively short period when the crop is flowering. But then also, you know, the, I think you mentioned earlier the possibility for pest management, you know, there's been several studies that have shown that these wildflower areas provide the kind of habitat and resources that parasitic wasps and predatory wasps just love and are able to help control the pests that are showing up on the crop as well. So, and certainly, in our fields as well, that's like I said, not in a focus of our study, but I do collect the other insects that are on these wildflowers and there are a ton of predatory wasps and parasitic wasps, and flies and of course, leopard doctrines and just a ton of different species that are showing up. So they definitely have more than just the benefit of the crop pollination.

Speaker 1: I know here in Oregon, there's, we have, I don't know if you have a marmorated stink bug and we have a stink bug up here that's spreading and the parasitoid really likes facility, which is awesome. Really good plant. So in some ways, it's like the, you can have pest management almost drive growers to putting in some of this habitat.

Speaker 2: Yeah, it's definitely an added plus that could potentially, you know, convince them that it's worthwhile.

Speaker 1: People are going to kill me if I don't ask you what were some of your, you know, best flowers in your mix. What were some of the flowers and you're looking at them? They really kind of attracted some really cool bees.

Speaker 2: Yeah, so we have four species of wildflowers that I chose. Zinnia elegans attracts a ton of butterflies, which are not, you know, occasionally you'll see a butterfly kind of go over to a watermelon half the time I think it might just be on accident.

So they, yeah, they typically attract a lot more of the leopard operans than the other species do, but there's, they still also attract a lot of bees. And then we have Guyardia Potella, the blanket flower. It's a great plant. It grows really well and it attracts a ton of bees. We have Coriapsis tinctoria and Cosmosulfurius. So they're pretty common and well-known flowers and they just do really well. And obviously, we don't treat them with anything. They're not sprayed with anything. So they're kind of this, you know, a pure and really great food source for the other bees and other pollinators and insects.

Speaker 1: Perfect. Okay, well, let's take a break. I've got some other questions to ask you. We ask all our guests. So we'll come back in just a minute. All right, we're back. So, Mimi, the first thing I want to ask you about is whether there is a book that was really influential to you or you really want people to know about pollinators.

Speaker 2: Yeah, there's, there's several, but I think one book that hasn't been mentioned on your podcast is called Bees and Up Close, Look at Pollinators Around the World by Lawrence Packer and Sam and a great, great guy and the guru. But it's a really great book. The photography is amazing. It's more like a picture book, not like a textbook.

Speaker 1: But still the stories of the bees in that book are pretty remarkable. They've curated us some curious little critters.

Speaker 2: They did. And I think it's, yeah, it's great for people too who don't have the opportunity to look at wild bees under a microscope to really see what they look like. Because I remember the first time I ever saw a bee or an insect under a microscope and I was just blown away. So I can't even imagine that people who've never seen that, get the opportunity to see what these insects look like up close with these amazing photos. They're, you know, from all over the world. So I learn every time I look at that book, you know, crazy species from Africa and places like that.

Speaker 1: Yeah, Sam Droge's photography is really, really, really wonderful. People don't know who he is yet by some strange happenstance. You need to look him up. Yeah, for sure. I also like that book as well, because it has museum specimens that, you know, from a long time ago, and they, you know, they tell you a little bit about the person who collected it or the place it was collected. And I always find that fascinating that specimens have their history.

Speaker 2: Yeah. Yeah, for sure.

Speaker 1: Okay, that's a great recommendation. Thank you so much for that. Is there a tool when you're out working with pollinators that is your go-to tool? Do you love using it or you just couldn't do without it?

Speaker 2: Yeah, I thought about this and I have to go with my gut response, which is just a simple notepad and pencil. And I think people have said that previously on your podcast and it's just kind of the field ballad just go to, I guess people can use their phone now too, but your phone can always die.

And I don't know, I just am an old-fashioned person, anyway, I guess. But yeah, that, you know, you never know what you're going to need to record in that moment. It's amazing what you can forget the moment you hop in the car to drive away and, you know, your mind is in a different place. So it's really good, I think, to write down important observations and just thoughts you have while you're in the field that you're not going to have anywhere else. You know, the only other thing I could really think of that I depend on is I just always have vials with me, like empty vials to collect insects. Yeah, because I've discovered too that you don't really need a net for a lot of insect collecting bees are just so distracted when they're on flowers a lot of times you can just stick a vial on top of the bee and just finagle it and get the bee in the vial that way you don't need a net. So I always have that because you never know what you're going to see when you go out.

Speaker 1: Oh, totally. I don't know if you, I always have vials and so when I go home, you know, I go to bed and I clean out my pockets, my dresser has all these vials, probably yours the same as some Sharpies. So, you know, with a notebook though, for I guess people who are beginning, I noticed one thing that people have trouble with is knowing what to record because you can be so expansive and then tell us, give us some of your tips on how you make observations in a notebook. I'm putting it on the spot here, but if you were, when you, if you had like a student, an undergraduate with you, you're trying to advise them like, okay, this is the kind of detail that you want and yeah, I think,

Speaker 2: I think there's really no danger in too much detail. I think, you know, of course, if you're out there for hours, I guess, but, you know, the more detailed, the better and it's really, like I said, for those moments when you think of something in the field that you're not going to think of unless you're actually there and you might forget it within 10 minutes because there's so much going on. But yeah, I would just suggest, you know, of course, writing down the date and time and just important observations that relate to what you're trying to study and the questions you're trying to answer, you know, you can, I don't know, you know, what species you're seeing or problems that you might anticipate happening because of something or an irrigation line you're not sure is actually working or just all these things like make sure you contact so and so about this. It's really important to just write down those things while you're out there, while it's fresh in your mind.

Speaker 1: Because retrospectively, you may look at the data and say, oh, that corner of the field had really bad, oh, if I forgot there was an irrigation problem there, that explains the problem. But you don't know this, I guess, ahead of time.

Speaker 2: Right, right. Exactly.

Speaker 1: Okay, cool. All right, so pollinator, is there a pollinator that when you see you're just, oh, I'm really excited to see that species?

Speaker 2: Well, this question, it's really, really hard for me to choose one bee. But can I have two answers? You can for sure. So for a bee that I've actually never seen alive, but I've seen many, many specimens of it. When I was young, I had a short little job where I identified bees for a study that was being done in Texas.

And I got to see all these amazing, you know, kind of Western species that I've never even, the genre that I'd never seen before. And maybe the common name is like sunflower, the common name is ridiculous. But yeah, so I just thought it was the most beautiful bee. It literally looks like a little teddy bear. It's the pussiest, furriest thing.

It's just so beautiful. And of course, all the ones I was seeing were dead, unfortunately, hopefully, one day, I will see one alive one day. But in terms of bees that I see on like a regular basis would have to be the mega Kylie, any of those species, they're just, they've got like spunk, they're so fast. They're like, they're almost impossible to collect. They're so quick-moving. They, I just love the hair that they have on the underside of their belly. It's just adorable. And, and the males are, you know, kind of territorial and they like pound sun on bees twice their size when they're in their area. It's really interesting just to watch their behavior. And some of the males do have amazing forelegs and have these crazy, just weird structures on their forelegs that are really showy and beautiful and apparently used in mating. But I don't know if anyone knows that for sure. But yeah, they're just, they're really cool.

Speaker 1: Well, it's really great to talk to you. But also the one thing that sort of sticks with me from this interview is how we have great parts of the U S where we don't know the bee communities very well. And just like, you know, watermelons in the South, you think would be like one of the things that somebody would have studied a long time ago. And it's always amazing to me how many of these systems are poorly studied. It is just remarkable. Absolutely.

Speaker 2: And if I could just follow that up with a little comment in many of the texts about watermelon and, and, and my interactions with many growers and extension agents and all kinds of people, I have to sort of reiterate that I'm not studying honeybees. It's very important for people to be studying honeybees by all means.

But typically when I start talking about watermelon pollination and my study, people say, start talking to me about the honeybee hives, they just put near their fields and their honeybees, and I start saying, Okay, that's cool. But I'm actually studying the wild bees. You know, so I mean, I of course pay attention to the honeybees. I record information about them, but I'm really focused on all these wild bees, bees that are out there pollinating. And one of the really interesting things that we've also found is that honeybees in our fields if you total like a total number of visits that are being done to the watermelon flowers, in the past two years, they've accounted for 20 to 30% of the total visits with the wild bees accounting for the majority of the rest of the visits. So actually 65% of the

Speaker 1: people aren't even aware of the value of this biodiversity.

Speaker 2: Yeah, I would argue no. I think it's still very, very much unknown. Wild bees are just sort of not typically known about just by, you know, all the information out there in the media about the bee declines and things. I think people really only know about honeybees and maybe bubble bees, but yeah, it's one of my goals is to sort of get that information out there. And especially for farmers, I mean, they really should know what's pollinating their crop and how they can best bring those bees to their field.

Speaker 1: Well, keep up the great work and it is really great to catch up with you today.

Speaker 2: Thank you so much for having me on.

Speaker 1: 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 could 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.

Mimi Jenkins is a PhD candidate at Clemson University in wildlife biology studying how wildflowers in watermelon fields affect the diversity and crop pollination services by native bees to watermelon. Mimi works with watermelon growers in coastal and central SC as well as researchers at Clemson and the USDA Vegetable Lab in Charleston, SC. Mimi holds a Masters in Biology from the University of Akron where she studied plant-pollinator interactions in Ohio wetlands. Mimi has also worked at USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center identifying bees and other pollinators. Mimi first became fascinated with bees at the University of Pittsburgh working as an undergraduate research assistant in Tia-Lynn Ashman’s lab. In the future, Mimi hopes to continue in the field of conservation of pollinators working in urban and sustainable agriculture.

Listen in to learn about Mimi’s work studying the pollination of watermelon, and how farmers can improve their crop through cultivating pollinator systems.

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“Watermelon is one of those crops that is entirely dependent on pollinators in order to set fruit.” – Mimi Jenkins

Show Notes:

  • How watermelons rely so completely on pollination to survive
  • How much a pollinator needs to provide to fully pollinate a watermelon flower
  • When the seedless variety became popular and how that affects the process
  • How farmers plant their watermelon crop to maximize their numbers
  • How the native bees that interact with watermelon change across the US
  • What watermelon growers need to take into account with their pollinator systems
  • What Mimi is finding in her studies of pollinators in South Carolina
  • The great side effects of having flower strips for pollinators
  • Which flowers brought the greatest diversity in Mimi’s experience

“We don’t need to be spraying herbicides everywhere to clear all the weedy flowers that are naturally there; we can use those areas to provide that additional resource for pollinators. ” – Mimi Jenkins

Links Mentioned:

  • Connect with Mimi Jenkins at her website

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