Honey Bee Nutrition in Wild Blueberry Fields

Thursday 17 November 2022

In last week’s blog, we discussed the foraging behavior of honey bees while placed on almond orchards for pollination in Australia. In Atlantic Canada, honey bees are most heavily employed for the pollination of wild blueberries. Read on for insight into the foraging behavior of worker bees during this important period of the beekeeping season.

Honey Bee Nutrition in Wild Blueberry Fields

Providing wild blueberry pollination services is a major activity for many Atlantic Canadian beekeepers. Wild blueberries typically bloom in late May and early June, shortly after local forage sources have begun to proliferate. There are concerns that when bees are moved to blueberry fields, stress causes colonies to become weakened and susceptible to disease such as European foulbrood. In 2019, ATTTA did a study in Colchester county, Nova Scotia to explore this concern and improve our understanding of forage availability to honey bees (Olmstead et al. 2019).

Wild blueberry field in bloom. (ATTTA©2021)

ATTTA’s study explored nutritive health of pollinating honey bees by supplementally feeding and tracking hives during and after wild blueberry pollination. Seam counts and brood assessments revealed the colonies to be in good health. Colony growth and rate of EFB infection were not significantly different between hives fed pollen supplement and hives which were not. All colonies were at or above the Nova Scotia pollination standard for the duration of the trial and there were minimal instances of EFB.  In addition, pollen traps were mounted onto a sample of hives. After 24 hours, the collected pollen reflected a range of forage availability. 

The first published study to assess honey bee forage on wild blueberry fields in the Maritimes revealed that honey bees collected a very marginal amount of wild blueberry pollen during pollination (Colwell et al. 2017). This is distinct from honey bee pollination on almond orchards, where almond pollen is collected abundantly (Bezerra da Silva Santos et al. 2022). When honey bees are foraging on wild blueberry fields, they are nectar foraging (Javorek et al. 2002). They are moving from flower to flower, incidentally moving pollen in the process, but with the purpose of collecting nectar. Nectar is a valuable energy source for honey bees, while pollen provides protein and other nutrients that are important to honey bee health and brood rearing (Di Pasquale et al. 2013). When foraging wild blueberry fields, honey bees must rely on pollen from other resources.

ATTTA continued to sample pollen collections from honey bees during wild blueberry pollination in 2021 and 2022 to add to the breadth of knowledge that beekeepers and blueberry producers have about typical forage availability during this time. Stay tuned as we disseminate the results of these collections in upcoming meetings and publications. 

Bezerra da Silva Santos, Karen Cristine, Elizabeth Frost, Ulrika Samnegård, Manu E. Saunders, and Romina Rader. 2022. “Pollen Collection by Honey Bee Hives in Almond Orchards Indicate Diverse Diets.” Basic and Applied Ecology 64 (November): 68–78. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.baae.2022.07.006.
Colwell, Megan J., Geoffrey R. Williams, Rodger C. Evans, and Dave Shutler. 2017. “Honey Bee‐collected Pollen in Agro‐ecosystems Reveals Diet Diversity, Diet Quality, and Pesticide Exposure.” Ecology and Evolution 7 (18): 7243–53. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.3178.
Di Pasquale, Garance, Marion Salignon, Yves Le Conte, Luc P. Belzunces, Axel Decourtye, André Kretzschmar, Séverine Suchail, Jean-Luc Brunet, and Cédric Alaux. 2013. “Influence of Pollen Nutrition on Honey Bee Health: Do Pollen Quality and Diversity Matter?” Edited by Jochen Zeil. PLoS ONE 8 (8): e72016. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0072016.
Javorek, S. K., K. E. Mackenzie, and S. P. Vander Kloet. 2002. “Comparative Pollination Effectiveness Among Bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea) on Lowbush Blueberry (Ericaceae: <I>Vaccinium Angustifolium</I>).” Annals of the Entomological Society of America 95 (3): 345–51. https://doi.org/10.1603/0013-8746(2002)095[0345:CPEABH]2.0.CO;2.
Olmstead, Sawyer, Robyn McCallum, and Jillian Shaw. 2019. “Evaluating the Effect of Feeding Pollen Substitute to Honey Bee Colonies Destined for Wild Blueberry Pollinaiton in Cochester County, Nova Scotia.” Perennia.

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