Scientists are tracking Australian native stingless bees to determine what they like to eat, and how diet impacts overall hive health and their ability to pollinate crops effectively.
The work follows the discovery of Varroa mite in New South Wales in 2022, which has impacted horticulture growers’ access to Australia’s most common crop pollinator, the European honey bee.
Delivered through Hort Innovation and led by Western Sydney University and Griffith University in partnership with stingless beekeepers and industry partners, the programme will contribute to the growing pool of knowledge about the commercial management and capabilities of alternative pollinators.
Hort Innovation chief executive officer Brett Fifield said the program is being driven by the brightest minds in pollination research and is vital to safeguarding the future of Australian horticulture products.
“The incursion of Varroa mite has placed us in a position where we have had to reassess how we think about pollination,” Fifield said.
“Unlocking the potential of alternative pollinators, like the stingless bee, is going to be instrumental in providing the horticulture sector with new crop pollinating options.”
Western Sydney University Professor James Cook said the project will identify the nutritional choices of stingless bees by detecting the pollen species and essential nutrients collected during their foraging activities.
“We are exploring the relationship between stingless bees’ dietary choices and their colonies’ wellbeing,” Cook said.
“By understanding this relationship, we can identify new opportunities to optimise hive health, such as introducing nutritional supplements into stingless bees’ colonies, and thereby improve propagation of the bees and pollination services.”
In addition to working on stingless bee nutrition, crop pollination trials will be conducted at a state-of-the-art research glasshouse at the National Vegetable Protected Cropping Centre on the Western Sydney University Hawkesbury campus.
Sugarbag Bees’ business owner and beekeeper Tim Heard said the facility’s experimental hives dedicated to bee rearing will equip beekeepers with knowledge to propel stingless bee management to new heights.
“This research is fascinating and holds immense potential for enhancing crop pollination,” Heard said.
“By equipping beekeepers with valuable knowledge about rearing and managing these incredible pollinators, we will pave a sustainable future for beekeeping and as a result, the horticulture industry.”