Click on images to enlarge


Liotrigona mahafalya. © Bernhard Jacobi



Liotrigona bees

Summary

Honey bees are not the only bee species that are significant for human wellbeing. Liotrigona bees (which like a number of groups of bees are known as stingless bees) are a group of native bee species that produce honey and store pollen which is harvestable. However, they have not been domesticated. Liotrigona bees are also important pollinators of crops and wild plants. Their honey and pollen is widely harvested from the wild but in a destructive and non-sustainable manner. They are considerably smaller than honey bees and do not sting. They nest in colonies in small tree cavities but their precise nesting behaviour is poorly known. Liotrigona bees are often confused with the better known stingless bees in the genus Hypotrigona. 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)

White-dark stingless bees (English), Kadoma (Luganda –Uganda)

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Insecta

Order: Hymenoptera

Family: Apidae

Subfamily: Apinae

Tribe:  Meliponini

Genus: Liotrigona Moure, 1961

Species in the Genus

The bees in the genus Liotrigona, are small black-white bees in the tribe Meliponini. Eight species from this genus have been named to date. Most of these species are known fromMadagascar.

Species in Kenya, Tanzania & Uganda

Very few species of Liotrigona bees occur inKenya, Tanzania and Uganda. However, it is likely that there are more species than the single Liotrigona species listed from the region in Eardley and Urban 2010 (Liotrigona bottegoi).

Description

Liotrigona bees belong to the tribe Meliponini (stingless bees) which along with the honey bee (which belong to the tribe Apini) constitute the two highly eusocial bee groups. i.e. bees that live in large colonies of individuals in which there is a division of labour including reproductive queens and sterile workers.

Liotrigona bees are not well known by local people (including farmers) inEast Africa. In Uganda Liotrigona bees are confused with Hypotrigona bees. They 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. In Uganda they are commonly called “true Kadoma’ (in Luganda) which means harmless insect. Most Liotrigona species are small black shiny bees. In common with many eusocial bee groups and the mostly solitary orchid bees (Euglossini) they have a corbicula (or pollen basket), a pollen-carrying structure on the hind legs that is modified from the common brush of hairs.

In Uganda, these bees are mainly collected in farmlands with a variety of farming systems where there has been recent degradation of the forests. These bees like to follow people who have recently applied body milk. They are commonly trapped in pan traps.

Possible Causes of Confusion

Bees in the genus Hypotrigona can confused with Liotrigona bees but differ in that Liotrigona are generally shinier. Some hoverflies could be mistaken for Liotrigona. Flies can be distinguished from Liotrigona bees as they have only two wings while bees have four wings.

Distribution in Kenya, Tanzania & Uganda

Liotrigona bees are found in some districts/regions ofUganda, Kenya and Tanzania (Eardley et al. 2009). 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

Liotrigona bees can be found in various specific habitats (land-uses) in East Africa such as grasslands, natural forests, wetlands, marshlands, protected areas, farmlands, woodlands, woodlots (forest plantations) and riparian forest areas.

Nesting

These social bees nest in small tree cavities. However, the precise nesting behaviour of these bees in East Africa is not documented.

Crops Visited

Liotrigona bees are rarely seen collecting nectar and pollen from crop species inEast Africa.

Other Plants Visited

Liotrigona bees are rarely seen collecting nectar and pollen from wild plant species inEast Africa.

Economic / Ecological Importance

Little information exists on the usefulness of these bees to the lives of the people inEast Africa. However, they are pollinators and thus they are likely to contribute to increased agricultural productivity and the conservation of the natural biological diversity of the region. They also can contribute hive products. Improved management holds the promise for increased economic benefit from Liotrigona bees.

Threats

InEast Africa, Liotrigona 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. Liotrigona 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

Stingless bees play an important ecological role as pollinators of many wild plant species and seem good candidates for future alternatives in commercial pollination (Slaa et al, 2006). Stingless bees can pollinate most cultivated crops; therefore, their presence nearby fields can be very beneficial to farmers. It is therefore important to manage habitats to conserve these bees.

There have been some attempts in domesticating stingless bees inEast Africa . Stingless bee beekeeping is known as meliponiculture. It is not yet well organised in East Africa but is of great potential for small-scale farmers as source of income and as source of pollinators for particularly the greenhouse farming which has become very important in the region. 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. 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, M Gikungu M.P Schwarz (2009) Bee conservation in Sub-Saharan Africa andMadagascar: diversity, status and threats. Apidologie, 40: 355–366.

2. Eardley CD, Kuhlmann M and Pauly A. (2010) The Bee Genera and Subgenera of sub-Saharan Africa. ABC Taxa vol 7: i-vi, 138 pp. http://www.abctaxa.be/volumes/vol-7-bees

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

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

5. Eardley CD (2005) Taxonomic revision of the African stingless bees (Apoidea: Apidae: Apinae: Meliponini), African Plant Protection, 10:64–74.

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