UMaine Ph.D. student helps farmers better understand landscape effects

On Monday, Feb. 15, University of Maine Ph.D. student Brianne Du Clos and Professor of Anthropology Sam Hanes presented a talk based on the uncertainty of crop pollination and the tools that can be used to aid farmers in understanding the landscape’s effects on agriculture.

Hanes started the talk by posing the question, “what has been the best environmental reform of the last 100 years?”

According to Hanes, the lowering of human birth rates was the most successful environmental reform of the last century. This question and his introduction into altruistic and defensive environmentalism set the stage for Du Clos’ part of the presentation. Hanes asked what tools help farmers capture feedback on the landscape, and Du Clos’ presentation sought to answer the question.

Last summer, Du Clos, a Ph.D. student in ecology and environmental sciences, collected field data in various places around Maine. This data aided Du Clos’ creation of the “BeeMapper,” an online tool that allows blueberry farmers to examine wild bee habitats in relation to their crops.

Du Clos said that she was first interested in studying pollination because so much of the food we eat depends on the process.

Usually pollination is done using rented honey bee hives, which are trucked into Maine from all over the country and stay for a few weeks before moving on to another crop,” Du Clos said. “Honey bees face a number of health problems and are getting really expensive to rent.”

This opened up an opportunity for Du Clos to create a project that would both help her graduate and positively impact different communities and people.

Du Clos’ and Hanes talk was a part of a weekly seminar series at the Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, held every Monday at 3 p.m. Some of the talks have been given by student and faculty teams and others by stakeholder partners.

The Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions’ role is to, “support interdisciplinary teams of faculty and students who are interested in working with diverse stakeholders (e.g., business and industry, citizens groups, all levels of government) to help solve pressing sustainability problems in and beyond Maine,” David Hart, director of the center, said in an email.

“I really enjoyed the presentation for a number of reasons,” Ryan Edes, an undeclared second-year student who attended the presentation, said. “It was just interesting to see how different wildlife interacts with each other. It was also very cool to hear about a topic that hits so close to home in Maine.”

Du Clos is hopeful about the future of the BeeMapper program.

Blueberry growers are excited about the tool. Since honey bee hives are so expensive, they can potentially cut costs by relying on wild bees,” Du Clos said. “Showing them where wild bees are more abundant will help them make pollination management decisions and encourage wild bee conservation.”
The full program is expected to be released in December 2016, though the current program can be accessed on the UMaine website.

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