UMaine scientist researches bee sustainability

Eric Venturini, an assistant research scientist at the University of Maine, has recently been studying how to grow the populations of wild bees and is deeply passionate about sustainable agriculture. Venturini, who graduated from UMaine in 2006, returned in early 2012 to work on his master’s degree.  

“I majored in ecology and environmental science. I was always on the border between that and wildlife ecology and wasn’t sure where I wanted to go,” Venturini said.  

During this time, Venturini had an interest in fish and wrote his undergraduate thesis on salmon. According to Venturini, he chose his particular major because it offered a much wider range of topics than wildlife ecology.  

“I chose ecology and environmental science because it has more breadth. It has a broad focus. You can go to environmental law school or become a wildlife biologist. It kept the field open to me,” Venturini said.  

Before his work with bees, Venturini held a number of research jobs related to ecology and environmental science, such as studying lakes in Northern Ireland and being an official observer on commercial fishing vessels in Alaska.  

In early 2012, after his wife received a position as a Ph.D. student from the University of Maine, Venturini started looking for positions as well. It was during this time that he met UMaine’s Frank Drummond, Professor of Insect Ecology and Insect Pest Management and the two hit it off well.  

“The first opportunity was with Frank Drummond, who offered me a position to plant flowers next to lowbush blueberry fields and to study the response of the bees and the crop to the planting,” Venturini said.  

This research was all about wild bees and how they needed to be utilized more often by crop growers. According to Venturini, there are currently 275 different species of wild bees, yet most people are only familiar with the honey bee. The honey bee is just one species out of hundreds. Most growers are familiar with honey bees and know how to manage them and bring them to fields that need pollination.

“People are beginning to realize the importance of wild bees, who are also present in the fields. They are doing more than the honey bee. It’s a service that has not always been realized,” Venturini said.  

This is where sustainability comes into play. According to Venturini, when people hear the word sustainable, they tend to think of small, organic and local farming.  

“All of these things are relevant, but sustainability means to be economically, environmentally and socially sustainable, and bees are a huge part of that,” Venturini said.  

One third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees and this one third, according to Venturini, are some of the most valuable crops produced, such as blueberries, apples, tomatoes, almonds, nuts and much more.  

Venturini is saying that when it comes to the environment, bees are known as pollination services, because they pollinate crops for free. When it comes to economic sustainability, high value crops depend on pollinators.  

“If bee pollination is an essential piece of sustainable agriculture, then wild bees are the alternative to honey bee pollination,” Venturini said.  

Venturini’s main goal with this research is to plant food for wild bees to get more pollination in crop fields. He does this by providing the bees with what he calls a pollination reservoir.  

“A pollination reservoir are wildflower plantings. When a grower is trying to maintain an area that is going to help sustain a population of wild bees, a reservoir of pollinators help with crop pollination,” Venturini said.  

Outside of his research, Venturini has also recently started his own side business called Grow Wild Bees. Through this business, Venturini would provide growers, landowners and landscape companies with expert consultation to help them install wild flower plantings for bees.  

“I had been thinking about it for a while. A lot of growers are interested that if you manage your wild bees, then you have a greater increase in your pollination,” Venturini said.

Only time will tell if more crop growers start using and seeing the benefits of wild bee pollination but there is no denying the amount of benefits Venturini’s current research has provided in educating the public on how wild bee pollination can create an increase in crop production.

“Having a healthy population of wild bees is like having insurance, and people are always looking for better alternatives,” Venturini said.

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