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Ongoing project

Development of blue-banded bees as managed buzz pollinators (PH19001)

Key research provider: Western Sydney University

What’s it all about?

This project is developing a range of management techniques that will enhance the potential of using blue-banded bees as an alternative pollinator in commercial greenhouses. Operating procedures and pollination guidelines for specific crops will be developed so that growers have access to multiple options for pollinating their crops.

Blue-banded bees have shown preliminary promise for use as mass-reared pollinators, particularly as pollinators of tomatoes in Australian greenhouses due to their ability to perform buzz pollination – that is, using vibrations to remove and collect pollen from flowers incidentally fertilising them.

Specifically, the research team will:

  • Conduct further research to overcome current limitations in the use of blue-banded bees in greenhouses by:
    • Enhancing bee navigation in large greenhouses with different crops
    • Identifying and developing pollen and nectar sources (natural and artificial) to use in greenhouses to maintain healthy managed bee populations
    • Understanding and managing the effects of current crop pest and disease management activities on bee health and developing mitigation methods to reduce impacts
  • Review common diseases of blue-banded bees and trial control methods
  • Develop procedures for mass-rearing blue-banded bees.

Investigations on nesting materials have begun by constructing five types of artificial nesting blocks, using different designs, housing materials and substrates. These have been deployed at 13 sites of known blue-banded bee activity in the Greater Sydney Region. While bee activity has been severely depressed in the latest spring and summer seasons due to the extreme rainfall and flooding, the project team have observed blue-banded bee activity around the artificial nests and preliminary observations suggest that the design that involves pieces of rectangular PVC pipe with tennis court loam filling is the most promising.

DNA barcoding testing is underway to characterise diets of wild-caught bees in a non-destructive way. This was achieved by taking swabs from captured adult bees using sticky tape followed by releasing the live bees.

Trials were also run to assess how adult blue-banded bees adapt to glasshouse conditions with floral resources and artificial nest sites. Results showed that the bees were active and foraged on the flowers, however, they did not survive for long or establish nests.