Special hive innovations for crops grown under artificial light

Special hive innovations for artificial lightning

Intensive research into the sight of bumblebees has shown that their vision is different to that of humans. This simple discovery has led to a number of pollination innovations by Koppert Biological Systems. Trials conducted by the world’s leading bumblebee producer have shown that their ‘bee vision’ features impact positively on pollination in greenhouse cultivation; especially in crops grown under artificial light.

‘We literally ‘saw the light’ about bumblebee vision when research conducted by our R&D department proved that bumblebees saw a different spectrum of colours to that of humans. It really got us thinking and we have spent the last 3 years using this observation to redesign our Natupol hives. The ‘bee vision’ features and a number of other innovations have led to the creation of a new generation of very smart hives,’ says Koppert’s Pollination Product Manager, Remco Huvermann.

What is ‘bee vision’?
Bumblebees need daylight for their orientation. When artificial light dominates the natural light, bumblebees have problems with their navigation in the greenhouse, especially during the darkest months of the year. The ‘bee vision’ features on Koppert’s hives have been designed to help bumblebees navigate in unfavourable conditions. The new Natupol Excel hive, for example, contains additional cues that are visible to bumblebees alone and enable them to find their hives more easily.

‘These cues are present around the flight holes in the hives and a special reflective coating on the hive helps the bumblebees to find their way home in the crop,’ Huvermann explains. ‘The innovation means that the bumblebee uses less time for its orientation and has more time and energy for the effective pollination of the crop. The cues obviously play an even more important role when light conditions are not optimal.’
‘Bumblebees are sensitive to UV, green and blue light. Unlike humans, they do not register red light. This knowledge combined with the fact that greenhouse lights are optimized for plants that grow well in  red light, make it obvious why bumblebees find it difficult to navigate in these conditions,’ says Huvermann.

Special hive innovations for artificial lighting
Growing lights were introduced into greenhouses in Europe towards the end of last century to provide light for growth at night and prolong production during winter. Growers and researchers at Koppert soon observed that the bumblebees did not achieve effective and consistent pollination under artificial lighting. Illuminated conditions often led to a rapid deterioration of bumblebee colonies.

The first hive innovation by Koppert was the introduction of the wireless ‘beehome’ system in 2005 which ensured that bumblebees only flew at moments when there was sufficient daylight. The next innovation came in 2010 when Koppert R&D solved problems concerning hive placement and introduced best practice advice. In 2015 Koppert began to support a horizontal placement system by Metazet for optimal placement under artificial light conditions. Koppert continued to investigate bumblebee navigation in illuminated greenhouses and its effect on bumblebee behaviour from 2010 to 2016. The research during this period demonstrated that poor visibility of the bumblebee hive itself impacted negatively on pollination.

A new innovative range of hives
‘Bumblebee orientation was obviously a problem that needed our attention and we are happy that we have found a solution. One that distinguishes us from our competitors,’ says Huvermann. ‘Innovation is one of our core values at Koppert which is why international research is just as important as production and distribution. Our persistent research with and for our customers over the past two decades has lead to these newly designed bumblebee hives that aim to solve present and future challenges, says Huvermann.
‘Bee vision’ features are present in different designs on all the Natupol hives, including Natupol Smart, Natupol and most prominently on the Natupol Excel hive.

Koppert Biological Systems recently launched its new range of hives in Europe and the products are now available to customers. The new product range will be introduced worldwide during 2017.