birding-aus Bumble Bees

To: "Birding Aus" <>
Subject: birding-aus Bumble Bees
From: "Richard Dilena" <>
Date: Wed, 1 Dec 1999 21:15:47 +1100
Hi all,
below is some info (for those interested) on Bumble Bees in Australia.
Apparently there is a push from some sectors of the agricultural fraternity
to introduce BB's to certain crops (tomatoes) to help pollination.  However,
opponents cite data  which indicates that BB's which have escaped in to the
wild compete with native nectarivorous feeding animals.  So, read on. BTW,
sorry about the length of the message but have included statements from both
side of this debate.

Richard Dilena
Ocean Grove
Victoria, Australia

Subject: Bumblebees are allowed onto mainland Australia

Seven years ago, one bumblebee queen (Bombus terrestris) was accidentally or
illegally introduced onto Tasmania.  The species has since spread over the
length of the island.  In 1996, the company Integrated Pest Management
(IPM)in Gosford NSW has applied for permission to introduce bumblebees onto
mainland Australia.  The interest in introducing this species stems from the
fact that bumblebees can be used as pollinators of tomatoes in greenhouses,
while honeybees are not suited for this job.  Growing tomatoes in a
greenhouse environment reduces the amount of pesticide needed and encourages
the practice of integrated pest management).  Buzz pollination by bumblebees
(rather than pollination by hand, electric devices or hormones) increases
the weight of the fruit through growth of more seeds in the tomato.

The application of IPM was sent to Environments Australia's biodiversity
group, and was consequently circulated to State and Territory agencies for
comments.  Among the issues of concern were that Bombus terrestris could
colonise extensive areas of Australia, potential impacts from competition
with native birds, potential to pollinate and increase seed production for
weed species, and that the application lacked an assessment for native bee
species for use as commercial pollinators.

Because the bumblebees are already present on Tasmania, there was a good
opportunity to research these issues. A research project, set up by Dr Roger
Buttermore from the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and funded by the
Horticultural Research and Development Committee is currently under way.  In
the context of this project a meeting was held last week at the Museum
Hobart to address the environmental problems that may be caused by
introducing bumblebees on the mainland.  Representatives of EA, HRDC, AQIS,
tomato growers, beekeepers, bumblebee rearers and academic scientists got
together to investigate potential threats and to plan research to be done on

Among the problems mentioned was the potential of severe competition for
nectar with nectarivorous birds, such as honeyeaters.  Honeyeaters have been
shown to suffer from competition with honeybees for floral resources, and at
high densities, honeybees displace honeyeaters during the daytime.  The
honeyeaters then revert to foraging relatively more during the early morning
and late afternoon, which is prime bumble bee foraging time: Bombus
terrestris is a cool climate species that can forage at 13 C .  The expected
result is that  nectivorous birds will suffer from the increased competition
for food resources..

Although conservation problems are important, the most immediate and
damaging consequences are likely to involve other rural industries.
Bumblebees could prove the ideal pollinator for a large number of so-called
sleeper weeds: Introduced plant species that now occur in low densities and
garden plants that have not as yet become pests.

Bumblebees are specialised pollinators of foxgloves (a severe pest in NZ!),
and a suite of solanaceous weeds.  The latter group contains many poisonous
and prickly species, that may cause severe problems for the dairy and cattle
industry.  In addition to causing new species to become weeds, problems with
already existing weed species (blackberry, nightshades, gorse) could become
worse.  Increase of weed problems is therefore to be expected for several
branches of primary industry and in native bushland.

Although it was decided at the meeting in Hobart that these potential
effects of bumblebees would be researched on Tasmania, it also became clear
that transport of Bombus across state boundaries can only be prevented by
Environment Australia, not by AQIS.  It is not clear whether EA has
sufficient means of controlling a deliberate spread of the species on the

If bumblebees are introduced, there is potential for bumblebees to spread
rapidly over the cooler parts of Australia, the whole of Victoria, cooler
parts of NSW and SA.  The tomato growers will benefit by a considerable
increase in production (around 10 %).  The costs involved for the community
to deal with increase in weed problems are as yet unclear.

Dr K. Hogendoorn
Flinders University of South Australia

And a reply....

Dear all:

     It has been drawn to our attention that Dr Katja Hogendoorn has
     posted a number of communications on this list with respect to the
     introduction of the bumblebee species Bombus terrestris onto the

     In one of those communications she said that 'The tomato growers will
     wait two years to obtain the results of the Tasmanian study. In fact,
     bumblebees have probably been taken from the mainland to Gosford last
     weekend'. As the only two people from Gosford who attended the HRDC
     Workshop in Hobart on B. terrestris last weekend were ourselves, it was
     quite clear to whom she was referring. We find such allegations
     particularly as Dr. Hogendoorn was present at the same meeting in
     and knows very well that we advocated no such action, quite the
contrary in
     fact. The alacrity with which AQIS and NSW Agriculture were breathing
     down our necks yesterday indicates that the target of the invective was
     too clear.

     Some facts are in order. Bombus terrestris is used in most countries in
     Europe, and also was introduced in managed hives into Japan, Chile,
     and Israel as a pollinator in tomato and other crops. Bombus impatiens
     B. occidentalis are used in North America for the same purpose. The
     economic advantages in crops that can benefit from a buzz pollinator
     not in dispute. Twenty percent increases in yield are the norm in
     crops. Australia is increasingly at a competitive disadvantage in both
     domestic and world markets because it does not have a Bombus species,
     does it currently have any native bee species comparable in efficacy
     look remotely commercially viable. If there were, this issue would not
     arisen. An added advantage, and our primary interest as specialists in
     in Protected Crops, is that the use of bumble bees is incompatible with
     of hard chemicals, so growers are obliged to adopt biological control
     pests and grow crops in a safer and more sustainable way.

     For this reason, and for this reason only, we applied to Environment
     Australia two years ago to introduce the best pollinator species, B.
     terrestris, into mainland Australia, but not before we had compiled as
     information as we could obtain from the literature and from personal
     contact both within Australia and overseas, (both positive and
     that might impact on that decision. We concluded, on the basis of this
     information, that on balance the expected negative impact was likely to
     minimal.  The submission was sent by Environment Australia to the
     States and Territories for comment, and several issues of environmental
     concern were raised that at that time the available evidence did not
     us to address.

     Arising from these concerns, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
     a proposal and obtained HRDC funding for a three year study, which
seeks to
     address at least the major issues of Bombus impact in Tasmania and
     likely relevance to the mainland, and to act as a forum for informed
     debate. As part of the project, the recent workshop sought to bring
     together representatives of all major stakeholders so that agreement
     be reached on not only where the priorities lay, but what aspects could
     reasonably be addressed in the limited time available. Clearly there
     decades of work required to come up with answers to all the questions,
     witness the continuing honeybee debate.  Complementary studies by other
     agencies will certainly be sought and are very welcome.

     Dr Hogendoorn strongly implied that B. terrestris could only reach the
     mainland if it was brought in illegally. Did someone then have a vested
     interest in bringing in the European wasp, which was another 'illegal
     entry'? There is general consensus that sooner or later B. terrestris
     likely to find its way onto the mainland regardless of mode of entry.
     Studying the likely impact is critical to determining an appropriate

     In the first submission, weed spread had not come up as an issue from
     party. The participants at the workshop, including ourselves,
     overwhelmingly recognised that this issue was a priority, if only
     we had no data to support any argument for or against. Impact on honey
     eater birds came up in the discussion, but if I recall correctly, it
     considered outside the scope of the limited resources available, but
     of seeking outside assistance from vertebrate specialists.

     The project coordinator, Dr. Roger Buttermore of the Tasmanian Museum
     Art Gallery, is already charged with investigating weed-related issues.
     am sure he would welcome the input of weed specialists who can provide
     guidance and above all provide data relevant to the issue at hand. So
     in the overall debate, there has been a surfeit of soap box science,
     much negative publicity and hand wringing but little more than emotion
     questionable science to support the argument against. We personally
have no
     wish to go down in history as being the instigators of an environmental
     disaster, and nor do responsible growers, whose money is supporting
     study as the best hope for legally setting up a commercial bumblebee
     rearing facility in mainland Australia. We are and will continue
     counselling patience, but the growers have the right to expect a fair
go in
     exchange. The current disinformation campaign resembles very much the
     previous lobby campaign from native bee enthusiasts, whose valid
     were undermined by a few individuals extrapolating disaster from very
     questionable observations. The concerns are being addressed and have
     somewhat dissipated in light of this. It does not take a rocket
     to see why Dr. Hogendoorn has hopped off the native bee bandwagon, on
     she was at least qualified to give informed opinion, onto the weed and
     vertebrate issue. It would be a shame if the very positive spirit of
     workshop which most participants went away with was undermined by one
     more individuals pushing their own barrow with little objectivity. I
     every confidence that responsible weed scientists can present their own
     case, and urge you to do so through the project coordinator.


     Marilyn Steiner
     Dr Stephen Goodwin

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