National Nut Grower National Nut Grower

Jan 21, 2021
Pollinator work brings National Academy of Sciences award to researcher

Pollinators, such as honeybees, sustain ecosystems by transferring pollen to flowers, which supports seed, fruit and vegetable production. Pollinator populations are declining across the globe due to multiple interacting factors, including land use and climate change.

Christina M. Grozinger

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is awarding the 2021 NAS Prize in Food & Agriculture Sciences  to Christina Grozinger of Pennsylvania State University for her work addressing the pollinator crisis. The NAS Prize, endowed by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is awarded annually to a scientist who has made an extraordinary contribution to agriculture or to the understanding of the biology of a species fundamentally important to agriculture or food production. The Prize is presented with a medal and $100,000 cash award.

Pollinators are critical for both agricultural and natural ecosystems. Most flowering plant species, including fruit, vegetable and nut crops, need pollinators. Environmental changes, such as reduced availability of flowering plants that pollinators depend on for food, increased exposure to insecticides and the spread of pathogens and parasites have threatened both wild and managed pollinators.

Grozinger’s research seeks to understand the primary factors driving declines in wild and managed bee populations. She is working to develop approaches that can be used to support bees in urban, agricultural and natural landscapes. The Grozinger Lab uses an integrative approach encompassing genomics, physiology, behavior, chemical ecology and ecology.

Among many accomplishments, Grozinger’s Beescape project, funded in part by FFAR, developed the Beescape decision support tool. This tool allows users to select sites across the continental U.S. and obtain information to evaluate whether the surrounding foraging resources, nesting resources and applied insecticide toxic load makes that site hospitable to bees. This information can help beekeepers, growers and conservationists in making decisions about how to manage their sites to better support bee populations. Grozinger and her team are also integrating data on wild and managed bee health to generate models that use local information on habitat and weather conditions to predict how bees will fare at specific locations. Additionally, Grozinger has led several studies of the distributions of viruses and parasites in bee populations across the world, including studies in Kenya funded by a grant from the Gates Foundation. These studies helped identify emerging pathogens and conditions that might influence pathogen spread.

Grozinger’s research has demonstrated that access to high quality nutritional resources can improve bees’ resilience to diseases and pesticides. Her lab is currently working to better define bees’ nutritional needs so this information can be used to improve pollinator habitat restoration practices. She and her collaborators are screening diverse flowering plant species to identify those that will best support bee nutritional needs in natural, agricultural and urban landscapes.

“It is such an incredible honor to be selected for this award, and to have the importance of pollinators to agricultural systems recognized,” said Grozinger. “As with many challenges facing our agricultural and ecological systems, tackling pollinator declines requires a transdisciplinary approach, that crosses academic disciplines and engages stakeholders in a shared discovery process. I am grateful for the support of NAS, FFAR and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for fostering these efforts.”

“Dr. Grozinger’s pathbreaking research on honeybees and related insects is crucial to preserving agricultural and other benefits provided by pollinators,” said FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey. “FFAR is proud to recognize her accomplishments as this critical time in the pollinator ecosystem.”

The NAS Prize in Food & Agriculture Sciences recognizes research by a mid-career scientist, defined as up to 20 years since completion of PhD, at a US institution who has made an extraordinary contribution to agriculture or to the understanding of the biology of a species fundamentally important to agriculture or food production.

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