How The Giant Bee Thrives in Oil Palm Plantation?

. The giant honey bees (Apis dorsata fabricius)
Source: https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/MISC/BEES/Apis_dorsata.htm

Some studies revealed that honey bees are susceptible to extinction when their natural habitats are fragmented and transformed for feedstock and agriculture. However, the parallel growth of oil palm plantations and colonies of the giant bee in a regency in Riau Province, Indonesia, delivered a piece of vivid evidence that the crop might be a perfect home for their survival.

Whenever palm oil comes up, we often talk about its end products such as biofuel, cooking oil, cosmetics ingredients, to name a few. However, did you know that a lot of the end products of palm oil are attributed to a process that’s the least paid attention to, called pollination? Pollination in oil palm flowers can occur with the help of pollinating insects.

Oil palm pollination occurs through a mechanism known as cross-pollination, mainly carried out by the introduced beetle Elaeidobius kamerunicus (Curculionidae) . The beetle E. kamerunicus has the best ability to pollinate oil palm flowers than other pollinators because its shape, structure, and body size match the size and configuration of oil palm flowers. A literature review published in 2007 on pollinator dependence of the main crops used for food uses FAO and original data to calculate the value of the pollinator contribution to food production in the world. The total economic value of pollination worldwide amounted to €153 billion in 2005 . Pollination transfers pollen carried by bees from male flowers to female flower pistils, allowing fertilization. This fertilization process is the key to forming seeds that will develop into fruit that humans can use.

The giant honey bees (Apis dorsata fabricius) pollination in Elaeis guineensis
Source: Jonathan Tien-Yi Fung

Indonesia is blessed with a diversity of bee species. Indonesia has a rich species of honey bees from the Apis genus in the world. Outside the honey bee Apis, Indonesia has about 40 types of stingless bees. Around a dozen insect species have been linked to oil palm inflorescences in Indonesia [5]. There are various types of bees in Indonesia that are categorized into three groups: i.e., honey bees (Apini), stingless bees (Meliponini), and bumblebees (Bombini); the giant honey bee (Apis dorsata Fabricius); each of which stores resources such as honey in their nests. The pollination by stingless bees (Hymenoptera, Apidae, Meliponini) scientifically identified in oil palm shows a time pattern to collect nearly the same pollen and resin. Worker bees collect pollen in the morning, increases until noon.

As mentioned earlier, bees are significant endemic pollinators such as the giant honey bees (Apis dorsata), stingless bees (Meliponini), and orchid bees (Euglossini Apidae). In-depth, we shall highlight the discussion on the giant honey bees (Apis dorsata fabricius) that are found abundantly surrounding palm oil plantations (Figure 1). Apis dorsata build open nests that hang from under thick palm tree branches. They create a single large comb of up to 150 cm in length and 70 cm tall. The nest/hive is permanently covered by a curtain of up to 100,000 worker bees.  The question is, why are there Apis dorsata in the palm oil plantation? Conversion of landscape, such as fragmentation and degradation of tropical forest, could have consequences on the composition and population of wild bees. Some studies revealed that honey bees are susceptible to extinction when their natural habitats are fragmented and transformed for urban purposes, livestock, and even agriculture, including palm oil.

Some scientific documents suggest that bees’ ecological influence in palm oil is minimal, especially on environmental relationships, ecosystem conservation, and stability. However, bees here play an essential but minor recognized role in most terrestrial ecosystems. The stingless bees have initially developed in forest biotopes. Given a choice, wild honeybees chose nesting places in trees rather than in an open landscape. The bees often prefer to build their combs or nests high in trees instead of close to the ground, but bees’ nests can be found everywhere in a tree, including the Elaeis guineensis.

One of the fascinating scientific findings is that the Apis dorsata fabricius prefers to occupy trees with specific characteristics like banyan (Ficus benghalensis). The research conducted by A Pribadi, 2020 [15] for Apis dorsata fabricius in oil palm plantations revealed that the number of this bee colony increases symmetrically with the number of oil palm plantations. In Kampar regency, Riau Province, he predicted an increase of 25 colonies when the area planted to oil palm increases to 30,000 hectares based on a current ratio of up to 7 nests per tree in a 5,000 ha oil palm plantation.

Bee nest in palm oil three-branch
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLsf0y2nkm4

The most important is that oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) does not secrete nectar but many pollens. Honey bees need pollen for a protein source, and it is provided by oil palm pollen. Bees require protein for brood development, and they need at least 20% protein. Also, a healthy honey bee should have a crude protein level of 40 to 67%, and honey bees must consume a minimum quality of pollen containing 18% protein to obtain that level.  Besides, Southeast Asian honey bees also have socio-economic and socio-cultural values. The collection of wild honey, often referred to as “honey hunting,” has been practiced in Southeast Asia, including in Indonesia, for more than 40,000 years.

Wild honey in Southeast Asia/Indonesia
Source: Ninola Bradbear-FAO, 2009

Additionally, Apis dorsata, indirectly contribute to economic well-being and environmental conservation of protected forests since, in many areas of Southeast Asia, villagers are encouraged to harvest wild honey from Apis dorsata colonies in compensation for agreeing to a logging ban in compliance with non-timber forest products programs (NTFP).

Conclusion

Up to 30% of the world’s food consumption is derived from plants that depend on bees and other insects. The conservation of these pollinators may also favor the financial service they provide. The role of bees in helping pollination makes bees the key to world survival. Bees, in particular, play a crucial role in food production through the pollination of crops. Since agricultural yields can be maximized in quantity and quality by abundant and diverse pollinators, several native honey bee species are an asset for agriculture-Elaeis guineensis.

Author: Sidi Rana Menggala, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Coupure Links 653, Ghent University, 9000. Belgium

References

Lubis, A.U. 1992. Kelapa Swait (Elaeis guineensis jacq) di Indonesia. Bandar Kuala, Sumatera Utara : Pusat penelitian kelapa Sawit Marihat.

EH Siregar, 2016. Diversity and Abundance of Insect Pollinators in Differentin  Oil Palm (Elaeis guineënsis Jacq.; Areceaceae) in Indonesia. HAYATI Journal of Biosciences (HAYATI J Biosci; p-ISSN: 1978-3019; e-ISSN: 2086-4094).

A. Pribadi, 2020. The influence of vegetation compositions on Asian giant honey bee ( Apis dorsata Fabr.) in Kampar Regency. IOP Conference Series Earth and Environmental Science 533:012045

Katharina Stein, Drissa Coulibaly, Kathrin Stenchly, Dethardt Goetze, 2017. Bee pollination increases yield quantity and quality of cash crops in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Scientific Reports volume 7, Article number: 17691 (2017)