Canadian Ag-Tech company Bee Vectoring Technologies (BVT) has developed a new way to deliver fungicides, bio-pesticides and fertilizers to plants, without spraying, by using bees. As pollinators, bees are either essential, or beneficial, for many crops such as flowers, berries, and fruit trees and more. Bumble bees can pollinate up to 10 flowers a minutes and they leave their hive an average of 1,000 times per day. The BVT system takes advantage of the bees’ hard work and efficiency to provide flowers with crop protecting materials or fertilizers throughout the bloom cycle.

Their system works like this: the bumble bees have specially designed hives, so when they exit they walk through trays containing fertilizers, fungicides or pesticides in powder form. The specific materials used are carefully selected to ensure that the bees won’t be harmed in anyway. These materials get attached to the hairs on the bees and are delivered to the flowers when the bee pollinates them.

Bumblebee exiting BVT's inoculating hive system
Bumblebee exiting BVT’s inoculating hive system
Bumblebee in BVT's inoculum dispenser system
Bumblebee in BVT’s inoculum dispenser system

Bee Vectoring and Botrytis Rot

Studies have shown bee vectoring of the beneficial fungi, Clonostachys rosea can be an effective biological control of gray rot (Botrytis cinerea)  in strawberries and can be successfully vectored by bees. The hyphae of Clonostachys rosea  are able to penetrate and grow inside hyphae and conidia of Botrytis,  suppressing spore production and halting its growth.  Bees are able to successfully distribute this beneficial fungi to flowers where Botrytis infection is most likely to occur and can be the most economically damaging to strawberries.  The Clonostachys spores are able to colonize plant tissues rapidly (especially aging green tissue), further blocking Botrytis spores from forming and increasing plant vigor.  Botrytis is a major pest to wide variety of crops, and this new method of control has great potential to reduce the number of sprays needed, and reduce pesticide drift by targeting flowers.

Bee pollinating strawberry. photo: BVT
Bee pollinating strawberry. photo: BVT

Bee Vectoring for Insect Pest Control

In addition to fungal control, bee vectoring can also be a tool in controlling insect pests. One bio-control agent that has been successfully deployed by bees is Beauveria bassiana, an insect killing fungus. Using bumblebees to co-vector both Beauveria bassiana and Clonstachys rosea has proven to be a an effective control of greenhouse whiteflies (Trialeurodes vaporariorum), tarnished plant bug (Lygus lineolaris), and grey mould (Botrytis cinerea)  greenhouse grown tomatoes and sweet papers. Another study conducted in 2012 on greenhouse grown tomatoes and sweet papers, found that bee-vectored Beauveria Bassiana did not harm either bees or beneficial insect predators, concluding that this strategy should be compatible with most integrated pest management systems.

Further research is being conducted to determine efficacy of other biocontrol agents, as well as fertilizers, or other products that may be beneficial to plants when applied to flowers, expertly and efficiently, by bees.

Sources:

Biological control of Strawberry Gray Mold by Clonostachys rosea under field conditions. Cota et al. 2008.

Co-vectoring of Beauveria bassiana and Clonostachys rosea by bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) for control of insect pests and suppression of grey mould in greenhouse tomato and sweet pepper. Kapongo et al. 2008

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