Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Can Bumble Bees Fill Pollination Void?

A recent study at Oregon State University has shown that native bumble bee species have consistently high pollination and seed production levels in red clover.

The findings, which will be published in the November/December 2009 issue of Crop Science, offer promise for the use of bumble bee crop pollinators as an alternative to European honey bees, whose populations have recently declined in many areas of the United States.

Red clover, which is grown for forage and as a rotation crop to improve soil, is raised for seed in western Oregon's Willamette Valley. It will not produce seed without pollination, so growers typically place two to five European honey bee hives on each hectare. However, bee diseases, mites, and colony collapse disorder have recently limited availability and resulted in higher costs for hive rentals. Given these changes, an alternative pollinator for red clover seed crops is needed.

Worldwide there are over 200 species of bumble bees; some of whom are known to pollinate red clover. While commercially reared bumble bee species are available to growers elsewhere, they are considered exotic species in Oregon and cannot be introduced into the state. This leaves Oregon growers dependent on naturally occurring populations of bumble bees as pollinators. However, there is currently no information on the pollination efficiency of native bumble bee species.

Through funding from the Clover Commission, scientists at Oregon State University investigated native bumble bees in commercial fields of red clover seed crops in the Polk County region of the Willamette Valley. Prior to bloom, researchers covered plants with mesh-screened cages. European honey bee hives were placed in some cages and nests of B. vosnesenskii, a native Oregon bumble bee,in others. Some cages were also left vacant. After bloom, seed yield and seed set were compared amongst the different cages. Seed set was also evaluated in four different fields without cages to assess the efficiency of existing bee pollinators. In addition to analyzing seed set, researchers assessed the diversity and abundance of native bumble bees through visual observations of foragers on red clover flowers and through trapping bumble bees in blue vane traps.

While there were no differences in seed yield or average seed set in cages with bumble bees compared to honey bees, the study revealed that variability across cages was lower with bumble bees indicating that bumble bee pollination is more uniform than pollination by European honey bees. The researchers observed that the abundance of bumble bee peaked during mid-to-late bloom. They recorded six species of bumble bees gathering pollen from red clover flowers. Of these, more than 92 percent consisted of B. vosnesenskii, indicating that it is the key pollinator in Oregon. In addition to the six native bumble bee species that were seen gathering pollen from the red clover, 25 more species of native solitary bees, belonging to 12 genera and five families, were collected in the bee traps.

The study has not only documented a great diversity of native bees in synchrony with red clover bloom, but it has also found that seed set was uniform and high across four fields. Under current pollinator regimes, researchers believe red clover seed production is close to its maximum in Oregon.

"To sustain these high yields in Oregon, we must conserve the habitat of bees, use pesticides judiciously and provide floral resources prior to red clover bloom," said Oregon State University entomologist Sujaya Rao, one of the researchers on the study. "Globally, where red clover seed is produced, similar studies are needed. If seed set is found to be well below the maximum, appropriate alternative options such as augmentation with commercial bumble bees could be considered."

Research is ongoing at Oregon State University to determine whether high yields can be achieved by native pollinators alone. If so, European honey bee hive rentals would not be required, and this could lead to more economic red clover seed production in Oregon.

The full article is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary. View the abstract at

Crop Science is the flagship journal of the Crop Science Society of America. Original research is peer-reviewed and published in this highly cited journal. It also contains invited review and interpretation articles and perspectives that offer insight and commentary on recent advances in crop science. For more information, visit

The Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), founded in 1955, is an international scientific society comprised of 6,000+ members with its headquarters in Madison, WI. Members advance the discipline of crop science by acquiring and disseminating information about crop breeding and genetics; crop physiology; crop ecology, management, and quality; seed physiology, production, and technology; turfgrass science; forage and grazinglands; genomics, molecular genetics, and biotechnology; and biomedical and enhanced plants.

CSSA fosters the transfer of knowledge through an array of programs and services, including publications, meetings, career services, and science policy initiatives.

Sara Uttech | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Forest Management Yields Higher Productivity through Biodiversity
14.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Farming with forests
23.09.2016 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES)

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

First results of NSTX-U research operations

26.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

UCI and NASA document accelerated glacier melting in West Antarctica

26.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>