The role of native bees as pollinators in berry crops

26 March 2021

Last week, the Port Phillip & Westernport CMA and Berries Australia hosted a workshop in Silvan for berry growers to showcase the research of Prof Saul Cunningham and Dr Julian Brown of Australian National University.

Saul and Julian have been researching the role of native bees as alternative pollinators in berry crops. This is important research as European honey bees are not always an effective pollinator of some crops. Blueberries have different shaped flowers that honey bees have trouble getting into for nectar, whereas many smaller native bees fit into the flower shape really well.

Exoneura foraging in a Rubus flower

Their research focuses specifically on the native bee Exoneura (reed bee). This very small 6mm bee is showing very promising field results as an equally efficient berry crop pollinator. These bees like to nest in the pithy stems of tree ferns and observations are showing that the pruned canes of Rubus plants are just as suitable as nesting substrate for these little bees.

The workshop included a farm walk, where participants found many Rubus stems with holes tunnelled into them. Finding ways to attract native pollinators is important as their habitat is generally flowering native plants which promotes biodiversity outcomes but also, a solution to future issues with European honey bees should varroa mite become a widespread problem in un-managed feral hives and wild colony collapse.

Researchers are even trialling blackberry canes as artificial Exoneura bee nest sites, results thus far are mixed with some artificial sites being used well by Exoneura bees and other sites have had no luck. More research and trialling will need to be done to work out the ideal positioning and location of these artificial sites.

For now, berry growers can encourage these native bees by planting native flowering shrubs close to Rubus crops and maintaining cane stumps to encourage these bees to nest within crops.

Berry growers from across the Port Phillip and Western Port region who would like to participate in Sual and Julian’s research can contact Dr Julian Brown julian.brown@anu.edu.au.

Artificial nest substrate- blackberry canes