"The island of Newfoundland is one of the few places where certain devastating bee parasites are absent, so it is of great ecological and economic importance to prevent their introduction."
The native bumblebees of Newfoundland and Labrador have a special skill that makes them the champion of a healthy and productive cranberry farm. They buzz pollinate.
Most plants carry their pollen in exposed, easy to reach places, so insects simply have to land on the blossom to pick up the pollen and carry it away. But cranberries are part of the 10% of plants that carry their pollen in tubes. This is where buzz pollination comes in handy. The bee grasps the blossom in its jaws and rapidly vibrates its flight muscles without moving its wings. This shakes the blossom at just the right frequency to jiggle the pollen out of the tube.
Cranberry farming is a relatively new industry in Newfoundland and Labrador, but it's growing. In the fall of 2014, the federal and provincial governments invested $7 million to develop the industry and there are now 15 cranberry farms in the province.
Commercial cranberry growers naturally want to maximize yield. The size of a cranberry is dependent on how many viable seeds it has. And the number of seeds is directly related to effective pollination. Healthy, plentiful bees mean more seeds, bigger cranberries and more fruit per hectare.
In some places, farmers import commercially raised bees to help the native pollinators do their work.
“Importing commercial bumble bees is problematic in two respects: the species is not native to the island, so there is a risk of introducing a competing species; and they may carry parasites or diseases that could be spread to native bees,” said Dr. Sircom, assistant professor, environmental science. “The island of Newfoundland is one of the few places where certain devastating bee parasites are absent, so it is of great ecological and economic importance to prevent their introduction.”
Using field observations and GIS models, Dr. Sircom is studying the needs of bees, including food and shelter. She hopes to identify what native bee species need to be abundant, diverse and active pollinators.
The goal of Dr. Sircom’s research is to provide cranberry growers with simple, low-cost methods to maximize native bee populations. The idea is that increasing the number of native pollinators in commercial cranberry fields will increase fruit yields and ensure healthy native bee populations.