South-American bumblebee story makes news headlines. And Biobest.

9/04/2018 - The worrying decline of wild insect populations and of (honey)bees rightfully attracts regular media coverage.  The story about the rapid decline of the Chilean-Argentinean bumblebee species Bombus dahlbomii is no exception and just made headlines in Belgian and Dutch newspapers. This beautiful, large bumblebee species used to be quite common in Chile and parts of Argentina. Some 35 years ago, Chile started importing the large garden bumblebee (Bombus ruderatus) from New Zealand and later the buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) from Europe. Both species, exotic to Chile, established in the wild and populations of the native Bombus dahlbomii started dwindling. Even in parts of Argentina, where importation of European bumblebees was never authorized, the European bumblebee is gradually gaining the upper hand over Bombus dahlbomii. At Biobest, we take this issue to heart and we believe it is important to share our view.

The commercial use of bumblebees as pollinators in horticulture has also been one of the driving forces behind the development of solutions for biological pest control. Many chemical pesticides indeed have a strong negative impact on bumblebees. Bumblebee companies did pioneering work and provided modern growers with sustainable solutions to eliminate or at least to cut back severely on the use of chemical pesticides,” says Jean-Marc Vandoorne, Biobest’s CEO. “The decision, at the time, to authorize and import exotic bumblebees in Chile has not been the right choice. With the knowledge of today, a different decision would have been taken. For Biobest also, respect for local biodiversity is of utmost importance in all our policy decisions. Our industry sector makes an important contribution to a more sustainable agriculture with less pesticides. I am convinced that we will continue to increase that contribution while fully respecting biodiversity”.

We are proud to be frontrunners in our industry with a broad range of local bumblebee species,” says Karel Bolckmans, Biobest’s COO. “For almost a decade now, this has also been reflected in our efforts to rear a native bumble bee species in South-America: we are the only company with a long term R&D investment to rear the local South-American bumblebee species Bombus atratus. And we succeeded. Since a few years Argentinian growers have access to environmentally friendly solutions for pollination and biological control without putting local biodiversity at risk.”

“Competition for a limited supply of nectar can certainly play a role in the decline of Bombus dahlbomii in Chile, but we believe that the most important factor has been the introduction of new diseases through bumblebee or honeybee transports,” explains R&D Director Felix Wäckers. “In our bumblebee production we have set up rigorous checks with regard to the presence of possible pathogens. For this, we use molecular methods, which we had to develop ourselves in collaboration with the University of Ghent. Moreover, since 2011, we treat all our pollen in order to avoid bringing in disease agents via the bumblebee diet. Again, we have pioneered this pro-actively. Thanks to these effective measures, and jointly with the competent authorities who exercise permanent supervision, we can guarantee the health of our bumblebees.” 

That leaves one burning question. What should happen now in Chile? Again, Jean-Marc Vandoorne: “In our opinion, stopping production and importation of Bombus terrestris in Chile today, will not help the recovery of Bombus dahlbomii populations. Researchers like Dr. Dave Goulson, who are closely monitoring the population of Bombus dahlbomii have expressed the same view. We understand that certain local researchers are nevertheless asking the Chilean authorities to take this step. We respect that request and will be happy to enter in a dialogue with local authorities and researchers. We acknowledge that finding the right balance between, on the one hand, protection of local biodiversity and, on the other hand, providing the strong local horticultural sector with the tools to produce in an efficient and sustainable way is not an easy task. If the Bombus atratus bumblebee that we produce in Argentina were to be native also to Chile, we would be able to propose a straightforward solution. But it isn’t. So the question whether it is also possible to commercially rear a Chilean bumblebee species is on the table. There’s no easy answer, both for biological and economical reasons. That’s yet another topic we would be happy to discuss with the Chilean authorities and the local research community.”

Biobest, headquartered in Belgium, is a leading player in pollination and biological control. The company reaches out to growers in over 60 countries. Through its subsidiaries, the company has production sites, sales and technical support staff strategically located across the globe for effective worldwide service. Biobest distributors in many countries are key partners with whom the company works very closely to help customers achieve their economic and ecological goals.

For more information, please contact lise.verachtert@biobestgroup.com.

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