Bees needed for science

25 February 2014

Scientists need your help to find out how far a bumblebee species has spread in the lower North Island, so they can develop new ways to help the horticulture industry.

Scientists at Plant & Food Research are developing methods to look after bumblebee colonies in orchards so that they can be used to complement honeybees for pollinating crops. But first, they need to determine which bumblebee species live where.

“We are most interested in one bumblebee that is found throughout the South Island, but which previous surveys recorded as only in a very small area at the bottom of the North Island. We suspect they are now much more widespread,” says scientist Dr David Pattemore.

The research team are asking people in the Central North Island to send samples of bumblebees from their area so they can test their DNA and determine which species they are. By understanding the current distribution of these species they will know how best to target their research programme to identify the best ways to utilise them as crop pollinators.

“We really need samples from the centre of the North Island, from Hamilton south to Manawatu. Once we know where this species of bumblebee exists we can design nest boxes to suit them for orchardists, growers and gardeners to improve their pollination,” says Dr Pattemore.

The researchers are particularly interested in a rare species with three yellow stripes, rather than two, on its body. “The species we want to find looks very similar to another rare species, but unlike the most common species they have three yellow stripes, rather than just two,” says Dr Pattemore. “If you capture a bumblebee in a jar and can see it has three yellow stripes, then it could be a very important specimen for science.”

The science team would like people who find bumblebees with these three stripes in their gardens or local parks to capture one bumblebee in a small container and place it in the freezer overnight to put it to sleep. Putting a bee in the freezer euthanizes them in the most humane manner and the removal of one bumblebee won’t affect a colony.

“It’s important that we get samples from as many different colonies as possible,” says Dr Pattemore. “So only catch one or two from each location so we don’t take too many bees from the same colony.” “We are asking for these specimens at the end of summer, as bumblebee colonies will start dying out at this time. All worker bumblebees will die before winter, and so we’d like just a few for science,” says Dr Pattemore.

“This is a very exciting opportunity for citizen scientists throughout the Central North Island,” he says. “If you can spend a little bit of time to catch and identify the three striped bumblebees, we’ll do the genetic analysis and together we can develop the most up-to-date map of this species’ distribution.”

The samples can then be mailed to the Plant & Food Research site in Hamilton with details about the location where it was found. The bee’s DNA will then be analysed to determine which species it is and the distribution maps will be updated.

Samples can be sent to: Heather McBrydie, Plant & Food Research, Private Bag 3230, Waikato Mail Centre, Hamilton.

Emma Timewell
Communications Manager, Corporate Communications,
Plant & Food Research Mt Albert,
120 Mt Albert Road, Sandringham
Auckland, 1025, New Zealand
Telephone: +64-9-925 8692
Mobile: +64-21-2429 365

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