Case Study 15: Bumblebees for Crop Pollination: Social Behavior
Principal Investigators: US: Gene Robinson (University of Illinois); IS: Avraham Hefetz (Tel Aviv University)
Goal: To understand the colony development, social behavior and reproduction of the Bombus terrestris (buff-tailed bumblebee) and to implement the findings of the basic research into successful rearing of the B. Terrestris for industrial crop pollination.
Activities: The key biological functions of the B. Terrestris with respect to colony growth and social behavior; e.g. worker bee reproduction regulation, queen dominance and development from larvae to adult were investigated.
Outcomes: The understanding of the biology and social behavior of the B. Terrestris paved the way to facilitate colony manipulation for year-round and specific pollination requirements. Israel was the fourth country (after Belgium, Holland and Canada) to commercially use bumblebees for tomato pollination. It leads to higher fruit quality and increased total yield, reduces costs in comparison to manual labor, and necessitates reduction in pesticides application. Today, commercial greenhouse tomatoes are pollinated worldwide by bumblebees, including most European countries, North America, Chile, several Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea and China, and also Turkey.
Economic Benefit: The contribution of the project to crop pollination is indirect and difficult to estimate. Therefore, we did not attribute any monetary benefit to BARD.
Capacity Building: 3 postgraduates and a number of graduate students were involved in the research. Currently, 2 are in academia, 1 in the US and 1 in Israel; another 1 established a bumblebee rearing and research facility.