Blue banded bees, teddy bear bees and carpenter bees are just three of the Australian native bees capable of buzz-pollination. Most flowers release their pollen passively, but others like the tomato flower only release their pollen when the flower is vibrated rapidly – ‘buzz-pollination’. Bees capable of buzz-pollinating clamp their legs onto the anther cone of the flower and contract their flight muscles so vigorously that the pollen is released.
Tomato flowers require buzz-pollination to release all their pollen
Without appropriate pollinators, commercial tomato yields are significantly reduced. In Australian glasshouse-based tomato farms, there was no common buzz pollinator available, so tomato growers were forced to use an “electric bee” vibrator to pollinate flowers. This is very labour intensive and adds cost to the final product.
Growers proposed that the Commonwealth Government allow the introduction of the European bumble bee (Bombus terrestris) as a pollinator for their glasshouse crops, despite the potential for an environmental disaster. Instead, the University of Adelaide has researched and demonstrated that native blue-banded bees are just as effective as bumble bees and buzz pollination.
For crops such as tomatoes, kiwi fruit, eggplants and chillies, blue banded bees are thought to improve yields in Australia by at least 30% overall.
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