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Mission Document of the

Standing Commission for
Pollination and Bee Flora

Koos Biesmeijer, President

Marinus J. Sommeijer, Former President



The major objectives of the standing commission are in accordance to the general objectives of APIMONDIA which are to promote scientific, technical and economic apicultural development.

The APIMONDIA Standing Commission on Pollination and Bee Flora is working to realize these objectives along four major lines:

Koos Biesmeijer
  1. The role of bees as pollinators for agricultural crops
  2. The importance of plants as food sources for bees and thus for the production of honey and other hive products
  3. The ecological position of bees in the environment, specifically the role of bees as pollinators of natural flora
  4. The behavior of bees related to foraging


A.1. general
It is generally known that bees are needed to pollinate our crops but it is not well known that the economic value of bee pollination is several times more the value of the world-wide production of honey. About 80 % of our food crops are pollinated by animal pollinators. These are mainly bees. It is estimated that one third of what we eat and drink is produced through service supplied by pollinators. Nowadays, we learn more about the pollinator role of bees. They appear not only to be extremely important for traditionally grown and well-known crops, but they are also essential for economically promising tropical and less common crops. It is the task of the APIMONDIA Standing Commission for Pollination and Bee Flora to obtain more knowledge about the bee pollinator essentials to improve the production of traditional crops and of those crops that offer important new perspectives.

The APIMONDIA Standing Commission for Pollination and Bee Flora deals mainly and traditionally with Apis bees, of which colonies are kept by beekeepers of the APIMONDIA federation. For the development of new pollination methods it is also important to look into the specific pollinator role that is, or can be, played by Non-Apis bees, for example bumble bees, solitary bees and tropical stingless bees.

A.2. backgrounds concerning the pollinator status of bees
A great majority of angiosperm (flowering) plants are for their pollination depending on animal behavior. Of the animals that visit plants and that are in this way responsible for the spread of the pollen, a great majority belongs to the insects, for example flies (Diptera), beetles (Coleoptera), butterflies (Lepidoptera), but most important, bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea). Bees are, because of their morphological adaptations for the collection of pollen, considered to be the most efficient pollinators. The reason that in particular social bees (species of bees that live in permanent "colonies"; these are bees of the taxonomic groups Apini/"Honeybees", Meliponini/"Stingless bees" and Bombini/"Bumblebees") are so important as flower visitors and pollinators, is based on the existence of their long-living colonies. In order to survive, a typical bee colony needs to exploit a range of food sources at any time of the year. No single food source will be available throughout the year, therefore the relatively short-lived foraging honeybees do not have a genetically determined flower preference, as is the case in many solitary bee species. Instead, individual honeybees develop their own foraging specialization in the field, following the local and temporal availability of various flowers and other information obtained. This makes that colony-living bees visit many different plants and this is also the background of the fact that they are easily to be manipulated by man to visit even non-native crops and ornamentals. Honeybees are generalists ("polylectic") at colony level, but to a large extent flower specialist (flower constant) at individual level (Bawa et al, 1985; Bawa 1990; Slaa, Sanchez & Sommeijer, 1999).
Certain groups of bees are able to perform specialized pollen collecting behavior, e.g. so-called "buzz-pollination". In a wide range of angiosperm families, pollen can only be released when the stamens are shaken by vibrating bees. This buzz-pollination is performed by bumblebees, carpenter bees and by stingless bees of the genus Melipona, but not by honeybees. The recent development in the use of bumblebees in the applied pollination of tomato and sweet pepper shows the advantages of the use of a buzz-pollinator. The world wide value of sold bumblebee colonies (1 000 000 colonies/yr) is around 100 million US$.
The production of crops, that need to be pollinated in enclosed environments like greenhouses, and therefore in the absence of natural pollinators, implies a new dimension for the application of bees as pollinators.
Resulting from the available managing technology and the actual pollination value, the honeybee (Apis mellifera) is to be considered the most significant management tool for seed production. However, other species, like the bumblebee and several solitary bee species, are also being used for the pollination of greenhouse crops and ornamentals (Estes et al., 1983). In the tropics special use is made of stingless bees (Apidae, Meliponini) that are similar to the honeybee in their high degree of sociality.
Over the last years, the economic importance of honeybees, Apis mellifera, for the pollination of agricultural crops has increased considerably and has become more and more subject of study. It is evident that the economic importance of honeybees as pollinators will still increase over the coming years (see: APIMONDIA congress in Slovenia 2003). And consequently this topic is the major field of activity of the commission.
During the last years, we perceive a "pollination crisis". In certain parts of the world there is a decline of Apis mellifera colonies due to attack by pests and diseases (Varroa mites etc.) combined with a general increase in the area of bee-pollinated crops. In some countries the demand for pollination is increasing, at the very time that the supply of managed pollinators is decreasing. This pollination crisis is raising further the interest in management, culture and conservation of pollinating bees. The commission has organised various symposia and conferences about the importance of bees as pollinators of crops and natural environments. The last conference was organised in Costa Rica (“Pollination in the Tropics”) in February 2004. Future work will also concentrate on this topic. Symposia on ‘Pollination in Greenhouses” in collabroation with Dr. Bernard Vaissier, France, and on “Diversity and Behavior of Pollinators” are planned to be held in the coming years.

A.3. environmental aspects
Modern intensive agriculture and certain ways for managing our environment may have important consequences for the ecological position and the conservation of bees in this environment. Certain developments are considered to be detrimental for beekeeping. The use of agro-chemicals and of genetically modified crops are much discussed in this respect. Often it is difficult to reach a proper opinion about risks and benefits of these technologies in relation to beekeeping. Beekeepers are concerned about this and they need objective information. This commission of APIMONDIA cooperates with other organizations for the regular organization of meetings about this. In cooperation with the International Commission for Plant Bee Relations (ICPBR), a symposium about this topic was organised in Durban 2001 for the information of beekeepers. At the international APIMONDIA congress in Dublin, 2005, a follow-up symposium will be organised, in collaboration with Dr Juliet Osborne, IACR Rothamsted, UK.


This is a very important field for most beekeepers in the world. The APIMONDIA Standing Commission for Pollination and Bee Flora is working on the information related to the status of pollen- and nectar resources. This includes the obtaining of knowledge concerning special characteristics of honey types from certain regions. It is important to document information on the relative importance of bee food plants and honey producing plants in the different countries of the federation. This includes the analysis of the botanical origin of honeys, pollen and even propolis. Melissopalynology, the microscopic identification of pollen grains, is a classic powerful tool for the study of bee - food plant relations. During the international APIMONDIA congresses, there are regularly symposia and workshops on this topic.


In addition to the direct economic importance for agricultural pollination, bees play an essential role as the major pollinators of natural ecosystems. Again, the honeybees, and in certain areas other species of social bees, e.g. the exclusively tropical stingless bees (Apidae, Meliponini), do take care of a large proportion of the pollination in natural ecosystems. Honeybees are very efficient general pollinators of the natural flora. Through their numbers and special behavioral features (highly developed communication and recruitment behavior; and their need to store large amounts of food in the nest) they are often more effective than other insect pollinators. The role of honeybees as pollinators of the natural flora is now more investigated, and more advertisement about this ecological contribution by honeybees (and by beekeepers) has strongly to be made. Programmes for the conservation and the sustainable management of natural ecosystems should pay attention to the position of the pollinating bees that are present in this environment.
This commission also compiles information concerning the interactions of various sympatric pollinators in the field. At the congress in Dublin, 2005, a symposium on the topic “Pollinator diversity, behavior, competition and conservation” will be held. Various international experts in this field will contribute to this with important presentations (e.g. Dr. Chis O’Tool, UK, Dr. D. Eisikowitch, Israel). This meeting will also deal with competition between various groups of bee pollinators in agricultural habitats and nature reserves.


In principal, all bees feed on pollen and nectar. The honeybee, Apis mellifera, is known to bring large amounts of pollen and nectar to the nest. The thousands of individuals of a honeybee colony have to collect and store the food in a way that is efficient and effective for the colony. Certain phenomena of bee behavior are important for the foraging strategies of these bees. Typical communication systems of honeybees, including the so-called "bee dances", are developed for the efficient exploitation of the various food plant resources in the environment. At the same time, "flower constancy" and other bee-food plant related behaviors contribute to dynamic decision-making by the colony. When do colonies need to switch to new food sources? Knowledge about these and other behavioral backgrounds, specifically of bee foraging, is important for the practice of commercial beekeeping for honey production and pollination.


Most activities of this commission are related to the organization of special sessions, symposia, workshops and excursions at the biennial international APIMONDIA congresses. The commission makes an effort to obtain for this work the collaboration of well-known specialists in the respective fields. By participation of these technical authorities information can be compiled or presented that is of value to the practical beekeepers. The commission also tries to facilitate other institutions or organisations with interest in the same topics, to present their information to beekeepers. Another task of the SCPBF is the organization of separate APIMONDIA meetings on specialized topics concerning pollination and bee - food plant relations in different Regions or continents. Important topics of meetings were and are: “Pollination in Greenhouses”, "Bees and Trees", “Pollination of special crops”, “Pollination by special groups of Bees”, “Pollination in the Tropics” and “Microscopic Analysis of Botanical Origin of Honey”. The cooperation with other specialized institutions is essential for this work. The cooperation with the ICPBR for the topic “GM crops and Bees” is a good example of succesful cooperation over the last years. The APIMONDIA Commission for Pollination and Bee Flora is very interested in other initiatives and suggestions for cooperative activities.


Dr. Marinus J. Sommeijer, President (Curriculum vitae)
APIMONDIA Standing Commission for Pollination and Bee Flora
Bee Research Department, Utrecht University
P.O.Box 80.086
3508 TB Utrecht, The Netherlands
Phone Office: +31-30-2535425; Residence +31-30-2734821
Fax: +31-30-2720192
Mobile number: 06 534 07 078
Email address: m.j.sommeijer@uu.nl
Website: http://web.science.uu.nl/sommeijer/

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Last update: 2018-11-19 / m.j.sommeijer@uu.nl