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Case study: pollination using bumblebees

The video takes you to a farm in Serbia that uses industrially produced bumblebees to optimise pollination of their tomato crops.

In this step, you’ll discover a real-life example of how beneficial insects are used in a greenhouse – this time, for pollination rather than pest control.

The video takes you to a farm in Serbia that uses industrially produced bumblebees to optimise pollination of their tomato crops.

By the time a tomato reaches your plate, it’s had a long journey. The tomato fruit is formed by fertilisation, when the pollen from another plant meets the ovule of the plant the tomato will grow on. For fertilisation to occur the pollen must reach the flower. This is done by insects in a process called pollination. However, pollinator numbers are in decline due to factors like environmental degradation, urbanisation, and the use of chemical pesticides.

Bumblebees are useful pollinators in greenhouses. Using them saves growers time and manual labour, since crops otherwise have to be pollinated by hand. Natural pollination using bumblebees also improves fertilisation, enhances the quality of the fruit, and generates higher yields.

Since the 1980s, bumblebees have been industrially produced in laboratories. This is done by selecting the best colonies, which are kept in special rooms designed not to disturb the bumblebees’ activity. The bumblebees are checked to ensure they’re disease-free. The queens are then mated in controlled conditions and hibernated until they’re ready to lay eggs and start new colonies. These colonies are placed into hives and sent out to growers.

To find out more about how bumblebees are industrially produced, watch the video in the See Also section below.

We would like to thank Koppert Biological Systems for supplying the information and video materials for this step.

To discuss

  • Pollinator numbers are in decline. What do you think the consequences of this decline might be?
  • What makes bumblebees such good pollinators?
  • What other insects or animals are useful as pollinators? Why are bees commercially produced rather than other types of pollinator?
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Improving Food Production with Agricultural Technology and Plant Biotechnology

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