Skip navigation links

June 18, 2015

The plight of the pollinator

With bee populations in startling decline, the Michigan Pollinator Initiative, an effort spearheaded by Michigan State University, will work to solve many of the issues facing the state’s pollinator populations.

Michigan is fifth in the nation in honey production, annually producing about 5 million pounds valued at more than $7 million. But in recent years, beekeepers in the state have been stung by heavy winter loss rates in hives, reaching as high as 50 percent.

“The high losses have been incredibly damaging to the industry,” said Meghan Milbrath, a postdoctoral scholar at MSU and director of the Michigan Pollinator Initiative. “The bulk of the economic burden is on the beekeeper, and it has been hard on an already tough agricultural industry.”

The initiative, housed in MSU's entomology department, aims to concentrate personnel, expertise and resources to achieve a higher level of focus and collaboration on pollinator health.

More than a billion dollars of Michigan agricultural products – including apples, blueberries, cucumbers and cherries – are dependent on bees for pollination. In addition, mite infestations, habitat loss, pesticide use and disease are affecting the state’s populations of roughly 400 native bee varieties and threatening the industries these pollinators support.

“There is a lot riding on the health of our pollinators – especially in Michigan. We have a unique mix of agriculture and weather that makes bees and beekeeping important to the state's economy,” said Milbrath, who also is a beekeeper. “We have many plants that are great for honey production and many pollination-dependent fruits and vegetables. The issues surrounding pollinators not only affects beekeepers and honey production, but also touches many other agricultural industries as well. ”

Michigan’s initiative will focus on beekeeping, crop production, land management and policy stakeholders, aligning with the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and Other Pollinators, announced by President Obama in 2014.

“The national strategy identifies the federal government’s path in the recovery of managed and wild pollinator species,” said David Epstein, a senior entomologist with the USDA. “Successful achievement of the strategy’s goals are possible only through our partnerships with land-grant universities and other public and private organizations across the U.S.”

Epstein, who earned a Ph.D. at MSU and worked as a tree fruit specialist at MSU’s Integrated Pest Management program for 12 years, played a key role in developing the national strategy.

“These plans use research-based knowledge while developing the communication networks needed to both conduct human enterprise and protect pollinators,” Epstein said.

“The Michigan initiative was designed to bring together researchers, educators and partners to have a more comprehensive and coordinated effort to deal with the threats to pollinators and to respond to the national initiative,” Milbrath said. “By bringing everyone together, we can more efficiently implement programs and strategies that improve pollination and protect pollinators in our state. ”

For more information, please visit

Media Contacts