AMHERST, Mass. — Sunflower pollen may play a role in improving the health of the bees that pollinate our fruits and vegetables, and a Massachusetts professor is trying to figure out exactly why.

UMass-Amherst biology professor Lynn Adler has received a three-year, $1 million federal grant to research the issue.

Federal agricultural officials say honeybee and bumblebee populations have suffered serious losses for a number of reasons over the past 30 years.

Adler says there is strong evidence that sunflower pollen can help bees fight a common pathogen called crithidia.

Her research will explore whether a medicinal supplement made from sunflower pollen might be helpful as an additive to bees’ staple diet and whether adding sunflower to pollinator-friendly plantings can improve bee health.

The grant will also support hiring an extension bee educator.