Monday, December 22, 2008

Another Benefit of Pollinators in the Garden?

In an article published in the journal Current Biology, researchers from the University of Wurzburg in Germany report that the presence of honey bees deters damage by plant feeding caterpillars. Tautz and Rostas measured plant damage to soybeans and peppers (with and without fruit) by beet armyworms, in the presence and absence of honey bees. When the plants were not fruiting, the presence of honey bees reduced caterpillar damage by 61-69%, compared to plants with the beet armyworms but without the honey bees.

The scientists suggest that damage is reduced, because the caterpillars sense vibrations by the bees' wings. In an earlier study, Tautz and Markl found that caterpillars use hairs on their body to sense the vibrations of hunting wasps. When wasps are perceived, the caterpillars stop moving, stop feeding, and vomit. This reaction delivers a degree of protection to the caterpillars - those exhibiting these behaviors are attacked 30% less than caterpillars that continue to feed.

The recent Tautz and Rostas study is exciting, because it suggests another potential benefit of pollinators in the garden. In addition, this study provides a new perspective on interactions between plants, herbivores and pollinators. Scientists have long known that herbivore damage can reduce the attractiveness of flowering plants to pollinators. But, this is the first study that I know of that suggests that pollinators can have a similar effect on herbivores.

Friday, December 19, 2008

OSU Professor to Head NOAA

Three cheers for OSU Professor Jane Lubchenco, who was just tapped by Barack Obama to head NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration). Dr. Lubchenco is a world-reknown scientist, and an active player in the public policy arena. Her appointment is a huge source of pride to the OSU community, and to Oregon, in general.

Welcome to the OSU Master Gardener Blog

The OSU Extension Master Gardener Program provides training for volunteers, who in turn assist in providing community horticulture services to the public. Under the auspices of Oregon State University Extension, individuals with an active interest in horticulture enroll in an intensive training program in horticulture and related fields. When the trainees complete their coursework, pass all assessments, and complete their volunteer practicum, they become an OSU Extension Master Gardener.

A primary mission of the OSU Master Gardener Program is to provide sustainable gardening advice to the public, using unbiased and research based materials. It is this reliance on research-based materials that ensures that the advice given by an OSU Master Gardener volunteer is of the highest possible quality.

In order to support OSU Master Gardener volunteers in their endeavor to provide the unbiased, research-based advice to gardeners seeking answers to plant problems, I thought that I would begin a blog. I am not yet sure how often I will be able to update the blog, but I intend to write at least one short article per week, and will try to focus on contemporary research that may be of interest to Master Gardeners.

When I can not find a journal article that strikes my fancy, I will report on events or other information that is likely to appeal to Master Gardener volunteers and other friends of the Program.

Please feel free to comment on posts, or to suggest a journal article that you would like to see featured.