Purdue University entomologist Ian Kaplan and his team have received a $3.6 million grant from USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture to fund their research into the environmental, ecological, and socioeconomic effects of neonicotinoid pesticide use.
The five-year grant is part of the USDA-NIFA Specialty Crop Research Initiative, a program providing funds for research in plant breeding and genetics, pests and disease, production efficiency and profitability, technology, and food safety hazards.
Kaplan and his Purdue colleagues, entomologists Christian Krupke and Rick Foster, are leading a team of researchers from Ohio State University, Michigan State University, the University of New Hampshire, and Clark University. The team will examine how neonicotinoid pesticides are used by growers of cucurbits, or members of the gourd family, such as melons and pumpkins. Their goal is to find ways for farmers to achieve effective pest control while protecting the health of honeybees and other beneficial pollinating insects.
“Indiana is a major producer of melons and this research is designed to help growers make informed decisions about insect management on their farms for both pests and beneficial species,” Kaplan said. “Neonicotinoids are used widely across many specialty crops that share a reliance on bees as pollinators. We anticipate that the research will also be informative to these other fruit and vegetable systems where similar tradeoffs between pest control and pollination may occur.”
Neonicotinoid pesticides are chemically related to nicotine and are used to control pests such as beetles, fleas, sucking insects, and wood-boring insects. They are valued for their effectiveness against insect pests, low toxicity to mammals and birds, and high water solubility, meaning that they are easily absorbed from the soil and distributed throughout the plant. Research is ongoing to determine safe levels for beneficial insects, including honeybees.
Each research team will examine the question from a different angle. Purdue researchers will observe how growers’ pest management practices are related to bees’ pesticide exposure levels and will also conduct experiments to track the responses of both pests and pollinators to the presence or absence of neonicotinoids in corn and melons. Corn treated with pesticides, either in neighboring fields or when planted in rotation with cucurbits, can be an alternate source of exposure for the bees.
Several researchers from other universities will assist Purdue’s efforts, while a second team will examine the social and economic factors that go into choosing a pest management strategy and the economic results of each choice.