92 Jim Cane – The Weird And Wonderful World of Alfalfa Pollination


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Dr. Cane is a Research Entomologist with the USDA’s Pollinating Insect-Biology, Management, Systematics Research in Logan, UT. Dr. Cane has been interested in comparative studies of solitary bees for 30 years, beginning with the evolutionary origins and use of lipid exocrine secretions to attract mates, repel predators, supplement larval diets, waterproof, and disinfect their nests. Work with these bees naturally led to study of their pollination services in both wildland and agricultural settings. A bee species’ pollination value reflects its sustainable abundance, wherein habitat carrying capacity is capped by nesting opportunities and foraging success. Dr. Cane has applied his long-term interest in conservation to help measure, understand, and mitigate human factors that can shift nesting and foraging opportunities for bee communities such as climate change, urban sprawl, habitat fragmentation, and rangeland rehabilitation.

Listen in to learn about the two key pollinators of alfalfa seed: the alfalfa leafcutter bee and alkali bee.

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“There is no crop has more flowers per acre than alfalfa – way into the millions per acre – and less pollen and nectar per flower.” – Jim Cane

Show Notes:

  • Why alfalfa is such a prominent feed stock
  • What makes alfalfa a specialized crop for pollinators
  • Why honey bees are not ideal pollinators for alfalfa
  • How farmers learned to make use of alfalfa leaf-cutting bees
  • Why alkali bees are the eighth wonder of the world
  • Whether or not other species of bees can be managed like the alkali bee
  • The challenges of managing alkali bees
  • Qualities to look for in a hand lens for bee observation

“An alkali bee, in her entire lifetime– all of her foraging, all of her flower visitation, she sets about 25 cents worth of seed, about a quarter pound or a third of a pound of alfalfa seed.” – Jim Cane

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