Pollinating insects (especially bees) are not only useful for pollinating crops, but also for other purposes. By collecting pollen from bell peppers in greenhouses, bees can help prevent allergic reactions of greenhouse workers. Bumblebees and honeybees are also used to spread natural antagonists to benefit biological disease control in agriculture and horticulture.
Reducing problems with pollen allergy in horticulture using honeybees and bumblebees
More than one third of all workers in bell pepper greenhouses have demonstrable allergic reactions from working with these plants. This concerns more than 2500 people in the Netherlands. The symptoms range from tickling sensations in the nose and eyes, nasal congestion, runny nose and eczema, to severe respiratory problems (asthma).
In cooperation with Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, Bijen@wur has conducted research to determine whether honeybees can contribute to alleviating pollen allergy in people working in bell pepper greenhouses. The research showed that the frequency of symptoms was indeed reduced. In 2007, Bijen@wur also studied the potential of bumblebees for this purpose. This study showed that bumblebees are even more capable of removing bell pepper pollen than honeybees.
Using honeybees and bumblebees to spread natural antagonists
Honeybees and bumblebees can be used to spread natural antagonists in a crop. This is a form of biological control in which antagonists prevent fungal diseases from harming crops. Because the honeybees and bumblebees bring the antagonists to the right location – in the flower itself – only a small quantity of the antagonists is needed to protect the crop, and the use of fungicides can be reduced. There is substantial interest in this method from various countries.
Honeybees can also be used for biomonitoring of environmental quality.