Bumblebees are known to be excellent pollinators of certain crops. This is why the New Zealand government-owned Plant & Food Research Institute has launched a project to increase the population of bumblebees in the country. At present, the number of bumblebees available is low compared with the tens of thousands of honey bees in managed beehives. The researchers are now investigating whether they can establish colonies and manage them in similar ways to those currently used for honey bees.
In a first step, the scientists are looking at where bumblebees like to nest. The goal is to create artificial nesting boxes that will attract the pollinators. University of Waikato student Ashleigh Weatherall is doing her summer studentship 2015 at Plant & Food Research to support the effort. Her job is to attach tiny transmitters to the queens to look at their nesting preferences.
But first Weatherall has to work out whether the transmitters make the bees behave differently. Once the transmitter is attached, Weatherall can compare how the queens with and without transmitters are flying and behaving. That can be done in an outdoor cage or flight chamber with a high-speed video camera.
To date, the research teams have had some success with trials of artificial nests, but they still have a long way to go before they know how to build the ideal bumblebee home.
The article on Weatherall’ studentship was published on “Stuff”, a news and information website focusing on New Zealand.
Click here to read the “Plant & Food Research” press release on the overall project: