Boreal forest blue-green bee could help food production in northern Quebec

A small native bee could help make Northern Quebec less dependent on fruits and vegetables shipped by air at great expense.

Researchers from the Boreal Forest Experimentation and Development Center in Baie-Comeau, Quebec. are studying whether the bee Osmia Tersula could help grow food in greenhouses in northern Quebec.

If the project is successful, it could be a game-changer for food security in the region, said Mathilde Bouchard, research associate at the center.

“Perhaps producers will be able to have a higher yield from their crops, and it will be easier to produce vegetables in isolated regions of Quebec,” she said. Quebec AM.

Bouchard said the goal of the project is to create pollination systems in greenhouses in northern Quebec, which would make it easier for communities to grow their own food.

“The more food we can produce locally, the better, I think, for the community.”

A hairy bee well adapted to northern climates

Bouchard and his team study the bee Osmia Tersula, a solitary bee that lives in the boreal forest. It does not live in a beehive but rather nests alone, often in small cavities or dead wood.

Unlike bees, this species does not sting. It is hairy and smaller – about eight or nine mm compared to 15 mm – than its bee counterpart with blue-green colors on the head and abdomen.

Bouchard said he was chosen for the experiment because he is well adapted to the northern climate and shows good potential to live in a closed environment as he stays very close to his nest.

The bee has also demonstrated its strong ability to pollinate local plants such as blueberries.

It is very common to use bees in greenhouses because plants need to be pollinated to grow fruits or vegetables, according to Maggie Lamothe Boudreau, vice-president of the Association des apiculteurs du Québec.

While pollination can sometimes occur through rain or wind, this is not possible in a greenhouse because it is a very controlled environment, she explained.

So without bees, “you would have to use a little brush or a feather and go over each flower and pollinate it by hand,” she said, adding that using bees also improved crop yields. cultures.

Greenhouse growers normally use bumblebees, which do not live in the boreal forest. But Bouchard told Radio-Canada that it is better to use native bees for their project because it disrupts the local ecosystem less.

“The Osmia has very similar characteristics to bumblebees, but the advantage is that it is a native species,” she said. “We therefore avoid introducing an alien species into northern communities.

The Osmia Tersula bee shows great potential for living in a greenhouse, according to associate researcher Mathilde Bouchard, who works with the Boreal Forest Experimentation and Development Center in Baie-Comeau, Quebec. (Ève-Catherine Desjardins)

If the researchers had used bumblebees, it would have created a risk that some insects would escape into the wild and compete with local pollinators in the area, Lamothe Boudreau said.

She said if the project is successful it could help Osmia Tersulas thrive. “I think it can benefit this species and help protect it.”

Research will study the impact on crop yields and fruits

The first step for Bouchard’s team is to assess how the bee Osmia Tersula reacts when locked in a greenhouse and how it behaves in warmer and wetter temperatures.

Then they will study the impact of the bee on flowers and crop yields.

They will examine which part of the flower the bee touches when it pollinates it, or whether the fruit produced is larger, Bouchard said.

The first crop to be tested is the tomato, because it is one of the crops that needs pollinators to have a better yield, explained Bouchard. If it works well, they will spread to peppers and eggplant.

His team has installed nesting boxes for wild Osmia Tersula bees at various sites in the Côte-Nord region, so that researchers can rear bees and bring their larvae to greenhouses at the end of summer.

Bouchard and his team have installed nesting boxes in various sites on the North Shore to breed Osmia Tersula bees for their research project. (Ève-Catherine Desjardins)

Part of the provincial food insecurity plan

The research center received a $ 90,000 grant from the Quebec government for this project, which ends in 2023.

The funding is administered by the Société du Plan Nord, a government agency responsible for planning sustainable development in northern Quebec.

One of the government’s priorities is to ensure that the people of the region have a good quality of life, that is to say, access to fresh and affordable food, said Julie Simone Hébert, director of programs. and territorial relations of the agency.

“When your food basket costs more, it’s harder for families to thrive and feel good on their own land,” she said.

Food is very expensive in northern communities because most of it has to be transported there.

To tackle this problem, the province created a program dedicated to greenhouse cultivation in 2017. This is why he is investing in projects like the one Bouchard is working on, Hébert said.

“Greenhouse agriculture is almost essential if we really want to work towards food self-sufficiency,” she said.

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