New Research Aims To Increase Longevity Of Bumblebee Hives For NZ Growers –

December 17th, 2020 5:51 pm

Monday, 14 December 2020, 2:58 pmPress Release: Ministry For Primary Industries

New research backed by the Ministry for PrimaryIndustries (MPI) could help bumblebee hives to live longerand be more efficient.

The new project is researchingways to protect the long-term sustainability of New Zealandhorticulture, including how to enhance the performance ofbumblebee hives using pheromones.

MPI is contributing$160,000 towards the $400,000 project through itsSustainable Food & Fibre Futures (SFF Futures)fund.

Dr Gunjan Gera of Gourmet Waiuku Limited isleading the project, supported by consultant Dr JoStephens.

Dr Gera says bumblebees are often used forpollination in berryfruit crops, glasshouses, and othercovered crop areas as the bees tend to travel only about 200metres from their hives and dont mind enclosed spaces,whereas honeybees prefer to fly to flowers furtherafield.

In the field, the queen bumblebee of acommercial hive lives for approximately 8-10 weeks and thehive winds down once the queen dies, says DrGera.

With fewer worker bees, the hives can appearless active when compared to honeybees and there can bevariation in vigour and productiveness.

Our projectwill study various factors and compounds in conjugation withthe bumblebee queens to see if we can extend the life of ahive to at least 12-18 weeks. If this works, we have a wayof complementing nature, using a pheromonesubstitute.

The technology is in its infancyoverseas and commercial companies using it havent yetreleased much information, says Dr JoStephens.

Were hoping to lead the way in NZ, butit will involve a good deal of trial and error given thelimited progress globally in this area.

Dr Stephensexplains that bumblebees were introduced to New Zealand fromthe United Kingdom by the early pioneers, so there islimited genetic diversity. Although commercial breedersincorporate new genetic diversity from the wildoccasionally, the gene pool is limited.

Anotherimportant part of the research will be screening bumblebeesfor diseases, including those associated withinbreeding.

Well be looking at the levels ofinbreeding in New Zealand populations to see if this is amajor concern, and whether we need to consider thepossibility of importing bumblebee genetics.

MPIInvestment Programmes director Steve Penno says this projectcould help increase the productivity of bumblebee hivesdramatically.

Enhancing bumblebee activity wouldmean better pollination for growers, which means higheryields and better quality produce, he says.

As wellas the bumblebee research, the project will also look atdeveloping technology to rear Limonicuspredatory mites. Thismite is effective in controlling thrips, whiteflies, andother mites in greenhouses and protected culture systems.While it occurs naturally in New Zealand, it is currentlyonly reared overseas and is re-imported for New Zealandgrowers.

This is expensive, time-consuming, andtheres always the risk of supply shortages, says DrGera.

If we can successfully rear these mites forcommercial production and release them in New Zealand itwill be far more cost-effective to controlpests.

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