Stingless bees as effective managed pollinators for Australian horticulture (PH16000)
What’s it all about?
This is a project in the Hort Frontiers Pollination Fund. It is examining Australia’s native stingless bees for their suitability as alternative pollinators to honey bees in horticulture crops.
While honey bees are excellent pollinators in many situations, their availability as both managed and wild pollinators faces various threats. This includes Varroa mite, which could lead to the collapse of wild honey bee populations if it establishes in Australia. The industry therefore needs to consider alternative pollinators, investigate their performance in different crops, and find better ways to propagate and deploy them.
The leading alternative pollinator candidates are stingless bees, which live in large colonies like honey bees, pollinate a wide variety of plants, and can be kept in managed hives. There are indeed a growing number of stingless beekeepers, and stingless bees are already used in macadamia farms. Managed stingless bees may therefore have wide but underdeveloped potential for crop pollination. Stingless bees (particularly Tetragonula species) are also used in crop pollination in several Asian countries, including in India and Thailand, so there is good scope to exchange knowledge and expertise on bee biology, husbandry and deployment in horticulture.
In looking at stingless bees, this investment is conducting studies across range of fruit and vegetable crops – testing first if the bees visit the flowers and transport the crop pollen. Where they do, the effectiveness of stingless bee pollination and its impact on crop set, yield and quality is set to be examined. For the most promising crop/bee combinations, the project team will then conduct studies of the potential of stingless bees to be effective managed pollinators in glasshouse conditions.
Trial hives for the project are established in the National Vegetable Protected Cropping Centre at Western Sydney University, which is run under this Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund project.
Specific crops involved in field work include:
- Vegetable crops in both field and glasshouse conditions.
This project involves the vegetable levy, in addition to other funding sources, and is funded through the Hort Frontiers Pollination Fund