The Power of Natural Pollinators: A Profile of Dr. Rachel Mallinger by: wAYNE HOBBS & cHASE bRANNAN, UF aGRICULTURAL EDUCATION & coMMUNICATION Graduate Students

Meet Dr. Rachel Mallinger, an Assistant Professor of pollinator ecology and conservation with the University of Florida, works to better understand the native pollinators of Florida to benefit agriculture, the environment, consumers, and the pollinators themselves.

"I first became interested in agriculture, sustainable agriculture, and the conservation of diversity in order to enhance productivity. My first interest in entomology came when I was an undergraduate as I had a research project on integrated pest management and alternative ways of managing pests. It really was my first experience with bugs and it was really fun. They’re (insects) diverse, they have fascinating behaviors, and they’re also really important ecologically, environmentally, and economically." This is how Mallinger came to be in her respective field according to her words. 

Dr. Rachel Mallinger, Assistant Professor Pollinator Ecology and Conservation at the UF/IFAS Entomology and Nematology Department
“They’re diverse, they have fascinating behaviors, and they’re also really important ecologically, environmentally, and economically” - Mallinger
One part of the UF/IFAS Honeybee & Extension Lab entomology collection

Since coming to the University of Florida in 2017, Mallinger's lab focuses on several exciting projects to better understand the behaviors, benefits, and conservation of native bees and other pollinators.

The European honeybee, which is not native to Florida, may get a lot of attention for their pollination ability, but native bees also play an important role in agriculture and ecosystems. There are over 300 individual species of native bees within our state and each has its own unique behaviors and environmental requirements.

These bees pollinate many different plants including crops such as blueberries, strawberries, melons, and apples as well as many more in the landscape and environment. However, many details of their roles are not well known, and Mallinger's research is working to enhance our knowledge.

Mallinger observing the collection at the UF/IFAS Honeybee & Extension Laboratory >>>

Mallinger inspecting the central garden at the UF/IFAS Honeybee Research & Extension Lab

Over 85% of our native plants rely on animal pollination to reproduce, so the loss of native pollinating insects would dramatically reduce biodiversity in the environment.

Many of our crops, such as the blueberries and strawberries which use the non-native honeybee for pollination, may benefit from native bees as well. Understanding the unique behaviors and preferences of native pollinators could help plant breeders develop new varieties and cultivars to take better advantage of this resource.

At Austin Cary Forest, Mallinger’s focus shifts into the realm of conservation. While prescribed fire is an important tool in fire management, her research looks into how seasonal timing of burns may affect native pollinators and portions of the forest vegetation.

Austin Cary Memorial Forest, located northeast of Gainesville, is used for the purposes of academic teaching, research, extension education, and demonstration. The forest hosts a wide variety of individuals and groups to supplement academic experiments to practice theories and principles of its academic subjects such as protection, silviculture, mensuration, management, economics, and others.

<<< A honeybee helps to pollinate a flower at the UF/IFAS Honeybee & Extension Laboratory

Honeybee inspecting a Texas Sage for pollination at the UF/IFAS Honeybee & Extension Laboratory

Research from her lab is being implemented in the home landscape as well. Provide pollinators with a diverse array of native plants that bloom and use insecticides intelligently only when needed. Leaving areas of bare ground can also help for most native bees are ground nesters, and installing pollinator boxes only help certain species of bees and wasps. Homeowners can also support pollinators by planting a diverse array of native blooming plants and use insecticides intelligently.

Many projects are also fairly early in their execution, so much more exciting news is on the way. To find out more information about Mallinger's research and lab, check out this link below.

Photos of various honeybee species interacting with different plant specimens from all across the United States of America

Thank you to our partners in UF/IFAS Agricultural Education & Communication, UF/IFAS Entomology & Nematology, UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources & Conservation Departments, and Streaming Science.