Photo: Native Stingless Bee. Courtesy of Peter O. Find more of his pictures here.
Honeybees, both wild and managed, are excellent pollinators for the Australian horticulture industry. However, our friends are experiencing major threats to their populations. One, in particular, is the Varroa mite, which has established itself within Townsville’s honeybee populations. If this mite was to find it’s way outside of Townsville, it could devastate the Australian honeybee population.
Therefore, the industry must look for an alternative pollinator and investigate its performance within horticulture. So, who could that be? The answer is closer to home than you may think and is already being used within the Macadamia industry.
Western Sydney University (WSU) at the National Protected Cropping Centre is investigating the leading alternative for the honey bee, the stingless bees. Native to Australia, stingless bees live in large colonies and pollinate a wide variety of crops within the horticulture industry.
Above: Stingless Bee and Honeybee size comparison. Courtesy of the Aussie Bee website
Stingless bees have large, easily managed colonies as evidenced by the increase in stingless beekeeping throughout Australia. These native pollinators may have a wide, underdeveloped potential for crop pollination throughout Australian agriculture. Stingless bees, at present, are already being used for crop production in some Asian countries, such as India and Thailand.
The funding from Hort Innovation Australia (HIA) to WSU has seen the investment conduct studies, across a comprehensive range of fruit and vegetable crops, to ascertain whether the bees can adequately pollinate the crops. The effectiveness of the stingless bee pollinators will also be tested against crop set, yield amount and quality.
Then, the most promising bee and crop combinations will be further assessed through the use of glasshouse conditions. This will allow the university to further study the potential use of stingless bees within the horticulture industry.
Some of the crops researchers are using to assess the potential of these pollinators includes;
- Glasshouse and Field Vegetables