Stingless Bees as Crop Pollinators
My PhD research is part of a broader project concerning the pollination potential of Australian stingless bees in key crops such as avocado, cucumber, lychee, macadamia, mango and strawberry. My project has two distinct parts – the first focuses on mango pollination with emphasis on stingless bees and the second involves assessment of lethal and sub-lethal effects of key pesticides used in horticulture, particularly around crop flowering, on stingless bees. Currently, nothing is known about the contribution of native vegetation, via insect abundance and diversity, to fruit set in adjoining mango orchards. It is also not known how pesticide exposure affects Australian stingless bees behaviour and health, or whether the well-studied European honeybee, Apis mellifera, is a suitable “surrogate pollinator species” in bee/pesticide research. My project will provide information on the sensitivity of stingless bees to pesticide exposure and the sub-lethal effects of pesticides on bee behaviour and health. The five key research questions of my project are:
- What are the potential pollinators of orchard mangoes and how does their abundance and diversity change in response to distance from native vegetation?
- How efficient (at an individual level) and effective (efficiency × abundance) are the dominant flower visitors in mango orchards?
- Is A. mellifera a suitable surrogate species for pesticide risk assessment for Australian stingless bees?
- What are the sub-lethal effects of some key pesticides on the stingless bee, Tetragonula carbonaria?
- Are pesticide residues detectable in T. carbonaria managed hives, and if so, which ones?
If stingless bees are found to be important pollinators of mango, my research is expected to promote stingless beekeeping in Australia and increase the likelihood of using them for mango pollination.
Professor James Cook, A/Professor Robert Spooner-Hart, Dr James Makinson