Stingless Bees as Crop Pollinators
Pollination is an essential ecosystem service, vital to the reproduction of both wild flowering plants and the crop plants we rely on globally for our food supply. Pollination services are largely provided by insect vectors, the most important of which are hymenopteran pollinators. Macadamia (Macadamia intergrifolia) is an economically important sub-tropical tree crop that is highly dependent upon insect pollination. Australia is the world’s largest supplier of macadamia nuts, making up 70% of world macadamia production.
Pollination services in Australia are provided by a diversity of wild insect species but horticulturalists remain very reliant upon the introduced European honey bee (Apis mellifera) than exists as both a wild and managed pollinator within Australia. Honey bees face a number of threats, including the establishment of the Varroa destructor mite in Australia, that threaten to drastically reduce wild populations and increase the cost of managing and renting domesticated hives. In order to ensure consistent yields in pollinator-dependant crops like macadamia, it is necessary to reduce the Australian horticultural industry’s dependence on honey bees and introduce more diverse sources of pollination.
My research investigates how we can use stingless bees (Tetragonula carbonaria) as alternative pollinators in macadamia orchards. Stingless bees are ecologically important pollinators of tropical crops and share many of the characteristics that make honey bees efficient managed pollinators. They are regarded as effective pollinators of macadamia but there are many knowledge gaps in terms of how best to manage and deploy stingless bee hives to maximise pollination service provision. I will focus on how the timing of hive deployment in orchards effects pollinator efficiency, and investigate how the health of stingless bee colonies used for pollination is impacted by looking at the stingless bee gut microbiome.
Professor James Cook, A/Professor Robert Spooner-Hart, Dr Ben Moore and Dr James Makinson