Quebec greenhouses eye native blue-green bee for increasing food production

A small native bee could help make Quebec's north less dependent on fruit and vegetables flown in at a high cost. Researchers at the Boreal Forest Experimentation and Development Center in Baie-Comeau, Quebec, are studying whether the Osmia Tersula bee could help grow food in greenhouses in northern Quebec.

If the project succeeds, it could change food security in the region, said Mathilde Bouchard, a research associate at the center. "Producers may be able to have a bigger yield of their crops, and it is going to be easier to produce vegetables in isolated parts of Quebec," she told.

Bouchard said the goal of the project is to create pollination systems in greenhouses in northern Quebec, which would make it easier for communities to grow their own food. "The more food we can produce locally, the better it is for the community, I think."

A hairy bee well adapted to northern climates
Bouchard and her team are studying the Osmia Tersula bee, a solitary bee that lives in the boreal forest. It does not live in a hive but rather nests alone, often in small cavities or dead wood. 

Unlike honeybees, this species does not sting. It is hairy and smaller — about eight or nine mm compared to 15 mm — than its honeybee counterpart, with blue-green colors on its head and abdomen.

Bouchard said it was chosen for the experiment because it is well adapted to the northern climate and shows good potential for living in a closed environment as it stays very close to its nest. The bee has also demonstrated its strong ability to pollinate local plants such as blueberries.

It is very common to use bees in greenhouses because plants need to be pollinated to grow fruits or veggies, according to Maggie Lamothe Boudreau, the vice-president of Quebec's beekeeper's association. 

Greenhouse farmers normally use bumblebees, which do not live in the boreal forest, but Bouchard told Radio-Canada that using native bees for their project is better because it is less disruptive to the local ecosystem.

"The Osmia has characteristics that are very similar to bumblebees, but the advantage is that they are a native species," she said. "We, therefore, avoid bringing a foreign species into northern communities."

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