Braunsapis bees

Summary

Honey bees are not the only bee species that are significant for human wellbeing. Braunsapis bees are a group of native bee species that do not produce honey but are likely to be important pollinators of crops and wild plants. Females have a sting, but they are not aggressive and will only sting if handled. These small, lean and mostly black-coloured species live independently of others (i.e. they are solitary) and nest in stems and twigs. This fact sheet provides information about these bees to encourage farmers to understand and protect them to help ensure that their crops are effectively pollinated.

From a conservation and agricultural standpoint it is not necessary to recognise all the different bee genera. However, it is important to know that there is a large bee biodiversity. Different bee genera pollinate different plant species, although there is some overlap that acts as a buffer as bee populations wax and wane. For healthy ecosystems, including agro-ecosystems both diversity and abundance in the bee fauna is important.

Common Name (Language)

Reed bees (English), bees of the tribe Allodapini share this common name with bees in the genus Ceratina

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Insecta

Order: Hymenoptera

Family: Apidae

Subfamily: Xylocopinae

Tribe: Allodapini

Genus: Braunsapis Michener, 1969

Species in the Genus

Currently there are about 89 species of Braunsapis recorded in different parts of the world, particularly in Africa, Asia andAustralia.

Species in Kenya, Tanzania & Uganda

Twenty species of Braunsapis bees have been recorded from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda (Eardley and Urban 2010) but more detailed survey work is needed to provide more accurate information on the number of species in these countries and their distributions.

Description

Braunsapis bees are not well known by local people (including farmers) inEast Africa. These insects are usually not recognised as bees by local people in East Africa , where the name bee is generally thought only to apply to honey bees. Braunsapis bees are quite lean and black, and are less than 1 cm in length. There are some species that are reported to have red abdomen or light colour.

Possible Causes of Confusion

Braunsapis bees could be confused with Macrogalea bees. It is possible to distinguish these bees since Macrogalea bees are hairier and slightly larger. These bees can be confused with small insects such as wasps but it should be possible to differentiate these wasps have a constriction (“waist?) at the junction of their abdomen and thorax which is absent in bees.

Distribution in Kenya, Tanzania & Uganda

In Kenya, these bees have been recorded in Kakamega. However, considering their habitats and nesting requirements in other parts of Africa, it is possible that these bees are well distributed in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in different regions from lowlands to highlands. Farmers can assist in reporting the presence of these bees in their neighbourhood. This would improve our knowledge of their distribution in the region.

Habitats

Considering their nesting requirements, these bees can be found in different habitats such as arid and semi-arid lands, lowlands, forests and even open farmlands where plants such as Lantana do well.

Nesting

These solitary bees prefer to nest in plants that have pithy stems such as Kilimanjaro basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum) and lantana (Lantana camara). In addition, they are reported to nest in Acacia thorns, twigs of raspberries and black berries. Their nests have also been reported on dead canes.

Crops Visited

There is little information about the pollination ecology of these bees. However, they have been reported to visit plants in the family Compositae (Asteraceae), which is one of the largest families among the flowering plants. Some of the crops include sunflower and, chrysanthemums. Other crops visited include raspberries and black berries among others. There is need to confirm their economic importance for pollination of crops and plants of interest to humanity.

Other Plants Visited

Plants in the family Compositae are visited such as marigolds. Also they are known to visit flowers of lantana and Kilimanjaro basil.

Economic / Ecological Importance

Little information exists on the usefulness of these bees to the lives of the people in East Africa. However, they are likely to be pollinators and thus contribute to increased agricultural productivity and the conservation of the natural biological diversity of the region.

Threats

InEast Africa, Braunsapis bees and other bee taxa are threatened by factors such as habitat degradation, agricultural intensification (e.g. replacing hedges with barbed wire fences, and increased use of herbicides which can affect wild flower numbers) and the misuse of insecticides. Braunsapis bee populations in East Africa are likely to be affected by pests and diseases but information on this subject is lacking. The lack of knowledge of about these bees and their economic importance by people (de facto custodians of nature) is significant as their conservation and management practices implemented at the farm level will depend to a large extent upon the value that people attach to them.

Conservation and Management Practices

There are now concerted research efforts in the region to develop best practices for conservation and management of bees that are compatible with other good farm practices, to enhance crop production. Theoretically, bee conservation and management is inexpensive and adopted activities can also improve the aesthetic value of the landscape. Such practices involve setting land aside (e.g. a 1-metre strip) in the farmland to host all year round food resources for the bees, as well as safer sites for nesting, mating, resting and refuge from natural enemies. During flowering, farmers should manage pesticide usage carefully to avoid poisoning flower-visiting bees. Farmers should also minimise pesticide drift from the field to adjacent areas. Laws governing registration and use of plant protection products indirectly play a major role in the protection of pollinators. KARI (the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute) is developing protocols for mass rearing of different species of solitary bees. Any successful results from this research will be freely communicated to the public. In addition, KARI is collaborating with other stakeholders to ensure in situ conservation and management of bees for pollination purposes. Much of the work of conserving native bees will be underpinned by raising public awareness of the importance of these species.

Legislation (National and International)

There is not yet any legislation in East Africa that explicitly addresses pollinators. However, there is scattered legislation for the protection of biodiversity particularly that covering environmental protection, protection of wildlife and heritage sites, protection of forests and natural resources such as water catchments. In addition, laws governing registration and use of plant protection products also indirectly play a major role in the protection of pollinators Such legislation, together with market-based mechanisms such as the Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) codes and practices may help to protect bees albeit incidentally. At the international level, the Conservation on Biological Diversity (CBD) is spearheading strategies to enforce bee management for pollination purposes within the member countries, which include Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Farmers should lobby their governments to develop Integrated Pest Management policies that would protect bees and other insects of importance in agriculture.

References

1. Eardley CD and Urban R (2010) Catalogue of Afrotropical bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Apiformes). Zootaxa, 2455: 1–548.

2. Michener CD (1974) The Social Behavior of the Bees, Harvard University Press, pp. 307–309

3. Michener, C.D. (1975a) A taxonomic study of African allodapine bees (Hymenoptera, Anthophoridae, Ceratinini). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 155, 67–240.

4. Michener, C.D. (1975b) Larvae of African allodapine bees. 2. Braunsapis and Nasutapis (Hymenoptera: Xylocopinae). Journal of the Entomological Society of Southern Africa, 38, 223–242.

5. Michener CD (2007) The Bees of the world, the John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, pp 913.

Editors

Théodore Munyuli, Busitema University - Uganda; Muo Kasina, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) - Kenya; Juma Lossini, Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI) – Tanzania; John Mauremootoo, BioNET-INTERNATIONAL Secretariat – UK; Connal Eardley, Plant Protection Research Institute (PPRI) – South Africa.

Acknowledgements

We recognise the support from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Tropical Pesticide Research Institute (TPRI)Tanzania and Busitema University (Faculty of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences) - Eastern Uganda. This activity was undertaken as part of the BioNET-EAFRINET UVIMA Project (Taxonomy for Development in East Africa).

Contact

BioNET-EAFRINET regional coordinator: eafrinet@africaonline.co.ke