Blueberries and their pollinators aren't native to South Africa but local honey bees can help

In recent years, blueberries have become increasingly popular because of their perceived health benefits. They're now planted all over the world, including areas where their natural pollinators don't occur—like South Africa, where the blueberry exports to the world have grown from 1,792 tons in 2014 to 20,013 tons in 2021.

In South Africa, there aren't any native pollinators for the fruit in the country, and the local honey bees aren't seen as an efficient substitute. Farmers are considering importing large bees, like bumble bees, that aren't native to the country. (The big bees South Africans may see in their gardens that look like bumble bees are actually carpenter bees.) But that could devastate local environments: bumble bees are strong competitors and often outcompete native pollinators for resources, as has been seen in Argentina.

Until now, little research has focused on how honey bees actually perform as blueberry pollinators in South Africa. It was important to fill this knowledge gap since the honey bee is the country's only pollinator that occurs in large enough populations, is easily managed, and can be moved around to meet commercial needs.

In two related studies, researchers put honey bees' pollination abilities to the test on some of the most common blueberry varieties planted in South Africa. Honey bees were found to be reliable pollinators of blueberries, increasing fruit number, fruit diameter, and mass and decreasing fruits' developmental time. Importing bigger bees like bumble bees is simply not necessary.

Read the complete research at www.phys.org.


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