October 17, 2014

Improving Native Bee Abundance for Sustainability

Next Generation Delegation 2014 Commentary Series

By Robyn McCallum, MSc Candidate at Dalhousie University’s Agricultural Campus and 2014 Next Generation Delegate

As a Next Generation Delegate, I was delighted to participate in discussions at The Chicago Council’s Global Food Security Symposium 2014 regarding a variety of aspects of sustainable agricultural production, particularly in the face of threats from climate change. As an MS student at Dalhousie University’s Agricultural Campus in Truro, Nova Scotia, my project is comprised of examining practical techniques to increase native bee abundance in wild blueberry cropping systems. Wild blueberries are a major industry in Atlantic Canada, which includes New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.  As this crop continues to grow, so does the need for pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and moths. The health of pollinators and honey bees has garnered increasing attention recently, with discussions around the causes of and remedies for issues such as Colony Collapse Disorder.

Accordingly, ensuring native abundance couldn’t be more pertinent to global food security. In Atlantic Canada, many producers rely on managed bees, such as the honey bee (Apis mellifera) to carry out pollination, but native bees such as the bumble bee (Bombus spp.) and mason bee (Osmia spp.) have demonstrated more efficient pollination. To achieve more efficient pollination, interest is growing in boosting native bee populations. However, bees globally face hurdles of insufficient nesting sites and food resources.

My project examines two techniques to promote population increase: providing habitat and providing food in the form of flowering plants.  More specifically, I have placed various types of habitat, or trap nests, in the field to appeal to mason bees. The aim of the experiment is to discover the most favorable nest type for mason bees in order to promote artificial nesting substrates for this type of bee. In terms of providing food to bees, I have planted buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) along blueberry field edges. Throughout the summer, I observed and recorded which types of native bees forage on the buckwheat. The following year, I will determine if the buckwheat provided suitable food and habitat to retain more queen bees than sites without buckwheat. My hope is that my findings prove useful to improving bee abundance and, as a result, improving sustainable food production as well.

I am interested in practical ways to efficiently increase native bee populations, as they are a crucial part of sustainability and food security. As producer interest in bee conservation continues to grow, performing this research is essential and timely. I see great potential to build on these fundamental experiments. Clearly, my research relates directly to food security as the majority of food crops require pollination, and bees fill most of this need. With increased awareness among consumers, producers, and policymakers surrounding bee health and conservation, I believe we can realize healthy native bee populations in order to ensure sustainable production and food security well into the future.  


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

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Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

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