Published on Sat Sep 04 2021

Assessing the effectiveness of honey bee pollinators for cultivated blueberries in South Africa

Martin, K., Anderson, B., de Jager, M., Minnaar, C.

The effectiveness of honey bee pollination on blueberries remains understudied. This study determined the effect of honey bees on the fruit characteristics of five blueberry varieties that are extensively planted in South Africa. Honey bees are functional pollinators in areas where native blueberry pollinators are absent.

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Abstract

Globally, agricultural crops are often extremely dependent on insect pollination. Blueberries are an example of such a crop and owing to their proposed health benefits they are grown around the world, including locations where their native bumble bee pollinators do not occur. In the absence of bumble bees, blueberry pollination in South Africa and many other parts of the non-native, commercial range is performed primarily by honey bees. Despite this, the effectiveness of honey bee pollination on blueberries remains understudied. This study determined the effect of honey bee pollination on the fruit characteristics of five blueberry varieties that are extensively planted in South Africa. For each variety two metrics were calculated: 1) the benefit of bees - a comparison of fruit yields after exposure to honey bees and fruit yields after honey bee exclusion, 2) the pollination deficit - a comparison between yields after hand pollination and yields after exposure to honey bee pollinators. Honey bee pollination consistently resulted in improved yields, although the magnitude of this improvement was dependant on the variety considered. Similarly, the pollination deficit also varied considerably across varieties and while some varieties appeared to perform close to maximum potential, others appeared to perform relatively poorly under honey bee pollination. This study demonstrates that honey bees are functional pollinators of blueberries in areas where native blueberry pollinators are absent. However, in such areas, it is important that special focus be given to selecting blueberry varieties that perform well with honey bees as their sole pollinator. Further research is necessary to determine how the pollination deficit of blueberry varieties can be decreased as well as how to increase the effectiveness of honey bee pollination.