Australian farmers rely heavily on the introduced commercial bee, Apis mellifera, to pollinate their crops. However, we have over 1,500 species of native bees in Australia and for some crops our native bees may be better pollinators.
Australia has about ten species of stingless social native bees (genera Tetragonula - previously called Trigona - and Austroplebeia). Stingless bees have been shown to be valuable pollinators of crops such as macadamias, mangos, watermelons and lychees. They may also benefit strawberries, citrus, avocados and many others.
Commercial pollination services with Australian stingless bees are already available and have produced impressive results particularly with macadamia and watermelon crops. Australian suppliers of stingless bees for crop pollination include:
-- Mark Grosskopf, Australian Native Bee Crop Pollination, Maryvale, Qld
Phone: 0438 623 734;
-- Frank Adcock, Bangalow, NSW
-- Steve Maginnity, north coast of NSW
Phone: 0404 831 659;
-- Lloyd Younger, Younger's Native Bees, Central Queensland
Phone: 0437 727 657;
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/YNBYoungersNativeBees
Early studies at the University of Western Sydney (see Aussie Bee Issue 10) demonstrated the excellent ability of stingless bees to work in confined areas such as glasshouses. Mark Greco of the University of Western Sydney also investigated the use of stingless bees for greenhouse capsicum pollination (read about Mark's amazing hive scanning method in Aussie Bee Online Article 7).
Research into the use of stingless bees for crop pollination in Australia is still under development but these bees show great potential! For more information see the ANBRC booklet, Crop Pollination with Australian Stingless Bees.
Other types of Australian native bees can also be great crop pollinators. Our native blue banded bees, teddy bear bees and carpenter bees can perform a special type of pollination called buzz pollination (see Aussie Bee Issue 11 and Issue 12). This could make them ideal pollinators of crops such as tomatoes, kiwi fruit, eggplants, blueberries, cranberries and chilli peppers. The commercial honey bee, Apis mellifera, cannot perform buzz pollination.
A research project at the University of Adelaide made substantial progress in finding ways to use blue banded bees for commercial greenhouse tomato pollination. The researchers discovered how to breed these native bees year-round in large numbers and demonstrated their effectiveness as greenhouse tomato pollinators. See: Blue Banded Bee Research Report.
Using native blue banded bees for greenhouse tomato pollination is a much better option than introducing European bumblebees for this purpose.
Find out more about crop pollination with blue banded bees in Aussie Bee Online! For example, Article 9 of Aussie Bee Online explains Melissa Bell's ground breaking study at the University of Western Sydney showing that blue banded bees are efficient glasshouse tomato pollinators; and in Article 8, Les Dollin explains how to make your own nest blocks to support the blue banded bees in your garden.