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THE GREAT IMPORTANCE OF SMALL INSECTS – THE INFLUENCE OF A LARGE EARTH BUMBLEBEE ON TOMATOES

ACADEMY – Lectures and articles

The decrease in the number of pollinators worldwide has been observed for many years. Many people do not realise that these tiny creatures play a major role in our ecosystem. About 80% of plant species need to be pollinated by insects to bear fruit and seeds. Pollination of arable crops is as much of an important factor for growing crops as agricultural engineering, fertilisation or protection against vermin and diseases. However, the number of honeybee colonies has recently decreased from 2 million to 900 thousand due to the poor condition of the species in the spring – parasites, diseases and mass dying. Therefore, a bumblebee is becoming one of the important alternative pollinators in orchards, gardens and fields.

Unfortunately, it is estimated that the number of bumblebees has decreased by 90% in the last 40 years. It is very disquieting that most of the threats to the life of bees are posed by humans. The conclusion is simple – we depend on pollinators and they are dying – on an unusually large scale.

It encouraged me to find a way to stop this unfavourable trend. I designed a home-made bumblebee nest box that may turn out to be an easy and effective solution to the annual problems of females searching for a place to lay eggs (due to the challenging conditions, only about 20% of females build nests). The nest box is also a simple and effective way to keep your own bumblebee colony in a flower garden or a recreational plot. Moreover, this box can be constructed by anyone: thanks to the use of materials that can be found in any home, the costs are reduced to a minimum.

In the spring of 2013 I observed a drastic decrease in the number of bumblebees in my flower garden. Consulting numerous sources, I found out that the bumblebee population had drastically diminished in recent years.

Due to this unfavourable tendency (only 20–30% of females survive the search for a place to build a nest), I designed a bumblebee nest box that can be made at home and that is an easy way to prevent the extinction of this insect species. It is a general-purpose, practical, durable box that anyone can make. Additionally, it costs about PLN 200 less than the model available on the market.

Additionally, the research study aimed at determining if a large earth bumblebee has a greater chance of survival in the rapidly changing ecosystem than a honeybee.
As it transpired, the quantity of tomatoes harvested in the greenhouse with bumblebees was 30% higher than of those in a tunnel with no natural pollinators. The profits from the sale of tomatoes increased by PLN 1490. The tomatoes were bigger and of a better quality and more perfectly shaped. Additionally, one bumblebee colony can replace the work of a man in the area of 20-25 ares, and thus reduce the use of artificial measures.

To expand the scope of my work, I familiarised myself with studies conducted in the United States and designed a modernised version of a nest box. It was painted blue because bumblebees prefer this colour. During my work, I carried out many surveys and interviews, and contacted e.g. Greenpeace, Anthony McCluskey of The Bumblebee Conservation Trust and George Pilkington – an English ecologist, writer and the winner of the Green Apple Award for Best Environmental Practice for his work on bumblebees.
Main conclusions related to the previously established goals:

  • The positive influence of a large earth bumblebee on the quality and quantity of tomato and sale profits.
  • The necessity to promote the idea of bumblebee nest boxes that may be a simple and beneficial solution for the endangered bumblebee species.
  • Greater adaptation opportunities in the rapidly changing ecosystem for a bumblebee than for a bee, whose population is decreasing due to the declining profitability of honey production as well as due to diseases and parasites.

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