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What’s All the Buzz About?

Grad student Jeremy Hamburger studies bees to help farmers improve crops.

July 08, 2015
A bee wears a tiny tracker

“Busy as a bee” seems like just another phrase — until you spend time tracking each tiny insect’s flight pattern. UW-Madison graduate student Jeremy Hemberger is doing just that, and his work as a member of Entomology Professor Claudio Gratton’s lab will help farmers sustainably optimize crop production.

Seventy percent of crops worldwide benefit from insect pollination, and bees are the best pollinators in the insect kingdom. Currently many farmers rent honeybees for their crops, but honeybees are a non-native species in Madison and many other parts of the world—which makes them expensive to procure, unlike the indigenous bumblebee. By tagging bumblebees with minuscule radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, Hemberger is learning how much time colonies spend foraging for food in various habitats in and around the Madison area.

Hemberger’s investigations into the intersection of ecology, conservation, and entomology are helping him develop models and tools for farmers to implement. Even slight adjustments create more bee-friendly environments, significantly improving the pollination potential—and the yield— of crops across Wisconsin and arable land everywhere. As the world struggles to meet the dietary demands of a growing population, the best solution might be to start small.

Very small.

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