Stingless Bees Effective Managed Pollinators for Australian Horticulture

Aims/objectives

Develop the use of stingless bees as alternate managed pollinators for horticultural crops.

Summary

Honeybees are excellent pollinators in many situations, but their availability faces various threats. In particular, collapse of wild honeybee populations is expected if Varroa mite established in Australia. Further, future supply of managed honeybee is a serious concern due to the age profile of the beekeeper community. As a result, we need to consider alternative pollinators. The leading candidates are stingless bees. There are a growing number of stingless beekeepers, and stingless bees are already used in macadamia farms, where they outperform honeybees. Stingless bees are also used in crop pollination in several Asian countries, e.g. Thailand and India.

The project will compile data and review existing evidence on the potential of stingless bees. We will also carry out studies on a range of fruit and vegetable crops, testing first if the bees visit the flowers and transport the crop pollen. Where they do, we will then test the effectiveness of stingless bee pollination and its impact on crop set, yield and quality as appropriate. For the most promising crop/bee combinations, we will then make broadly similar but tailored studies of the potential of stingless bees to be effective managed pollinators in a glasshouse condition.

The project is organised into five work packages (WP):

– WP1 will collate and analyse existing information on the potential of Australian native bees in general as alternative pollinators.

– WP2-4 will form the major experimental program to assess the potential of stingless bees as managed pollinators of tropical field, temperate field, and glasshouse crops.

– WP5 will take a complementary approach by focusing on collating and analysing information from farms and beekeepers on the aims, extent, methods and measure or perceived benefits of current use of stingless bees.

The primary target audiences are growers of field crops and growers of glasshouse solanaceous and cucurbit crops. We anticipate early adoption within five years of the project end.