Thursday, December 11, 2008

Conversation with Prof. Dan Eisikowitch

I arrive in Tel Aviv by the new light rail that spans Israel and am met by Professor Dan Eisikowitch. I met him first at the 10th pollination conference in Carbondale, Illinois in 1982. There he provided information on a project involving searching out nectar producing plants in the country. The fruits of that are now being enjoyed by beekeepers. He and others have busily been planting Eucalyptus around the nation and soon the millionth Eucalyptus erythrocoris will be put in the ground on this project. This project had as its base a search for Eucalyptus species that have been established in the country for a long time. It was not based on bringing in Eucalyptus from Australia. It turns out a hybrid between two types, often found in conjunction with graves of British officers, produces the most nectar. The project is now as he says, "out of his hands," as many nurseries in Israel are now propagating the hybrid, which breeds true.

I again met Prof. Eisikowitch at the recently completed Pine Honey Congress in Turkey, where he provided information on crop pollination in general in under Mediterranean conditions. In his presentation he noted that pollination by honey bees could be improved by pollen inserts (also used in some cases to deliver other organisms to crops), using high densities of colonies and employing sequential introduction of hives in crops where honey bees are diverted to more attractive plantings.

Dan, known here as "Dini" retired from the faculty so that in his words, he was "free to fail." He is a scientist's scientist and has a long resume of interdisciplinary work with many different people working in a wide variety of fields. One of his passions is pollination ecology. He was able to show me a picture machine designed on the principles of electrostatic pollen transfer currently being used in pistachio pollination in California. The pollen is given a negative charge and this is attracted by the positively-charged stigma. This is now also being used in date pollination in Israel as well.

Dan is now interested in the functions of branched hairs found on honey bees. The purported reason for these has been to attract pollen grains, however, he thinks two other things might also be important, temperature regulation and protection from pollen grains themselves. The hairs my trap air and conserve heat. In addition, they often can be seen erect and appear to be carrying pollen above the surface of the bee's cuticle (skin). Pollen grains are often spiny and if allowed to contact the cuticle might scarify it, causing the insect to dehydrate, much as boric acid crystals do to cockroaches. He has developed a device from a dentist's drill and is "shaving" bees to see what happens when their hair is removed.

He believes that Apis florea, recently detected in Eliat, near the Gulf of Aqaba, is a natural phenomenon and that further spread is inevitable. Some believe this Apis species might be a good pollinator; others think that it will be a competitor for managed honey bees the Israeli beekeeping industry cannot afford. Finally, there is the ever-present danger that this bee might introduce some kind of exotic organism (mites, etc.)

1 comment:

Jim Stovall said...

Dr. Sanford,

Thanks for your article and your web log.

I have posted links to both on BeePROF.com.

All the best,

Jim Stovall