Aussie Bee Online
About Native Bees
Bee Photo Gallery
Bees in Your Area
Rescuing Native Bees
What are Stingless Bees?
Buying Stingless Bees
Study Native Bees
Tim Heard's Book
John Klumpp's Book
Aussie Bee Back Issues
Support Native Bees
Aussie Bee Shop
Who We Are
At the University of Adelaide, research is underway to develop a breeding program for the year-round breeding of native blue-banded bees, Amegilla, for greenhouse tomato pollination.
The research is funded by the Australian Research Council and five industry partners (International Hydroponics, Flavorite, P'Petual, the Virginia Horticultural Centre and Biological Services), and has now been running for two and a half years.
How good are blue-banded bees at pollinating tomatoes?
Although the focus of the project is on developing a breeding program, the benefits of using blue-banded bees for greenhouse tomato pollination have also been investigated. Compared to pollination with the vibration wand, use of blue-banded bees causes an increase of 15-20% in tomato weight. This work is now in press and will appear in the June 2006 issue of the Journal of Economic Entomology [Issue 99(3): 823-833].
These effects of pollination by blue-banded bees are similar to those of pollination by bumblebees (Banda & Paxton 1991) and carpenter bees (Hogendoorn et al 2000).
Bee performance in the greenhouse
Blue-banded bees perform well in commercial greenhouses, both under glass and under plastic.
Blue-banded bees actively forage between temperatures of 20 and 40°C (some as low as 18°C), which is well within the day-time range used in commercial Australian greenhouses. Temperatures in the 30s, which regularly occur many Australian greenhouses, will not negatively influence bee performance. By contrast, these temperatures negatively influence bumblebee foraging: In Italy in plastic tunnels, bumblebees stopped foraging at 27°C (Koide & Hayashi 1993), and in Korea bumblebee foraging activity decreased by almost 70% at 32°C (Kwon & Saeed 2003).
The bees obtain carbohydrates from feeders, use artificial nesting substrate and are able to reproduce in the greenhouse using only tomato pollen.
A paper in review (Hogendoorn et al. accepted pending revision) addresses the foraging behaviour of the bees on tomato and estimates the density needed in the greenhouse. Blue-banded bees are very active foragers, and will visit around 1200 tomato flowers per day. The estimated number of females needed is 250 per hectare. These numbers still need to be verified in a large screened greenhouse, which was not available to the project. Vents need to be screened because the bees will otherwise escape (they are, after all, native bees).
The numbers of blue-banded bees needed are comparable to the density required for pollen foraging bumblebee workers used commercially overseas. The recommended density of the total number of bumblebee workers is twice as high, but bumblebee workers perform less pollen collecting flights than blue-banded bees, and only about half of the workers present forage for pollen.
Breeding and year round activity
Provisions for blue-banded bees in the greenhouse
Banda, H.J., Paxton, R.J. (1991). Pollination of greenhouse tomatoes by bees. Acta Horticulturae 288, 194-198.
Hogendoorn, K., Steen, Z., Schwarz, M.P. (2000). Native Australian carpenter bees as a potential alternative to introducing bumble bees for tomato pollination in greenhouses. Journal of Apicultural Research 39, 67-74.
Hogendoorn, K, Coventry, S.A., Keller, M.A. (accepted pending revision). Foraging behaviour of a blue banded bee, Amegilla (Notomegilla) chlorocyanea Cockerell in greenhouses: implications for use as tomato pollinators. Apidologie (subsequently published in Apidologie 38, 86-92).
Hogendoorn K., Gross C. L. , Sedgley M. , Keller M. A. (2006). Increased tomato yield through pollination by native Australian blue-banded bees (Amegilla chlorocyanea Cockerell). Journal of Economic Entomology 99, 828-833.
Koide, T. & Hayashi, G. (1993). Studies on the use of bumblebees in fruiting vegetables I. Foraging behaviour in the greenhouse and effects of bumblebees on fruit quality and setting of cherry tomato. Research Bulletin of the Aichiken Agricultural Research Centre 25, 165-170.
Kwon, Y. J. K & Saeed, S. (2003). Effect of temperature on the foraging activity of Bombus terrestris L. (Hymenoptera: Apidae) on greenhouse hot pepper. Applied Entomology and Zoology 38, 275-280.
An Aussie Bee webpage about blue banded bees and tomato pollination.