PEI

Native pollinators working hard in blueberry fields, researchers suggest

There are enough native bees pollinating blueberry fields on P.E.I. that farmers don't need to bring in honey bees, says a Dalhousie University researcher.

Native bees far more efficient at pollinating blueberries

Blueberries are in bloom right now, and native bees are willing to work when the May weather is cool. (Wyman's)

There are enough native bees pollinating blueberry fields on P.E.I. that farmers don't need to bring in honey bees, says a Dalhousie University researcher.

Prof. Nancy McLean has been working on some Wyman's fields for the last two years doing research funded by Environment Canada. She has found more than half of the bees found on blueberries flowers in P.E.I. are native bees.

"It's been estimated that a native bee is seven times more efficient than a honey bee," said McLean, and with that efficiency, they are likely doing a large majority of the pollinating.

Convincing farmers they don't need honey bees is a challenge, says Nancy McLean. (Dalhousie University)

"They have actually evolved with the blueberry plants and they can do things like buzz pollinate, which is vibrate the blueberry flower to allow the pollen to be released."

Supporting the bees

Native bees are also more accustomed to the Maritime climate. Honey bees evolved in the Mediterranean, and are less likely to fly in cool, damp weather.

McLean said a big challenge is trying to convince farmers they don't need honey bees.

"We're encouraging them to do whatever they can to support the native bees, and we're also trying to show them how prevalent the native bees are," she said.

McLean has been researching what other plants the bees prefer. The idea is to establish those around the edges of fields to support the native insects.

Bringing in honey bees is expensive, said McLean, and carries some risks. There is a shortage of hives in the province, and imported bees can carry parasites with them.

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With files from Island Morning

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