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Blue-banded bees ripe for pollination

Thursday, 22 September 2005

Researchers at the University of Adelaide have discovered that native blue-banded bees are just as good as alien bumblebees at pollinating tomatoes.

And compared to manual vibration, blue-banded bees cause a 20 per cent increase in tomato yield, according to findings from a current native breeding program. Three major greenhouse tomato growers support the collaborative project, involving the universities of Adelaide, New England and Flinders.

Dr Katja Hogendoorn, of the School of Agriculture and Wine at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus, said the blue-banded bees would be used as pollinators of tomatoes in greenhouses.

"The bees are docile and readily adaptable to the greenhouse, but as native bees they can escape from the greenhouse.

"Growers, therefore, need to install mesh vents and ensure their greenhouses are well sealed if they want to use the bees in the future. Researchers hope to have the bees 'industry ready' within two to three years," Dr Hogendoorn said.

"Bumblebees are widely used in greenhouses overseas, but bumblebees do not occur in mainland Australia and the introduction of bumblebees to Australia is unlikely, because it may have severe negative environmental effects.

"The project aims to supply a native alternative to exotic bumblebees, by breeding enough native blue-banded bees to be used as pollinators for the Australian industry. If successful, this will be the start of a novel Australian industry," she said.

Glasshouse tomato growers are lobbying the Federal Government to allow the introduction of bumblebees to the mainland.

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