Nomia bees

Summary

Honey bees are not the only bee species that are significant for human wellbeing. Nomia bees are a group of native bee species that do not produce honey but they are important pollinators of crops and wild plants. Nomia bees are not aggressive, although they do have a mild sting that is much less painful than that of a honey bee. They can sting for defence. They are solid looking small-medium sized (7-12 mm in length) bees with light sometimes glossy stripes on the abdomen . Nomia bees nest in the ground and live independently (i.e. they are solitary). 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)

Alkali bees, sweat bees (English)

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Insecta

Order: Hymenoptera

Family: Halictidae

Subfamily: Nomiinae

Genus: Nomia Latreille, 1804

Species in the Genus

Nomia bee species are a genus of sweat bees in the family Halictidae with over 130 named species which are found in most parts of the world.

Species in Kenya, Tanzania & Uganda

Around 20 Nomia species have been recorded inEast Africa (Eardley and Urban 2010). It is likely that more species will be found as a comprehensive list of Nomia species occurring in the region has not yet been produced.

Description

Nomia 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. They are small – medium sized (7-12 mm in length) solid looking hairy bees. Nomia bees vary in colour but are mostly dark with contrasting bands on the abdomen which can be glossy.

Possible Causes of Confusion

Some insect species look like large Nomia bees: These are other bees in the family Halictidae (Lipotriches and Pseudapis), Meganomia and some Ceratininae bees, which are heavily sclerotised (“armoured?) and often have enlarged back legs. The pale bands on the abdomen of Nomia bees are distinctive within the tribe but there can be confusion with Patellapis (Zonhalictus) that also has pale bands on the abdomen .

Distribution in Kenya, Tanzania & Uganda

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

Habitats

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

Nesting

Although characterized by a variety of nesting behaviours, these bees are solitary, ground-nesting bees (Michener 2007). Nomia bees are commonly found nesting in termite mounds in shaded and dry places in different semi-natural habitats.

Crops Visited

Nomia bees in East Africa are polylectic; i.e. they collect nectar and pollen from various flowering crop species belonging to different plant families. These bees are efficient pollinators of crops such as coffee, water melon, cucurbits, beans, cowpeas and simsim (sesame).

Other Plants Visited

InEast Africa, Nomia bees visit various plant species, notably those in the Fabaceae, Malvaceae, Rubiaceae and Asteraceae families.

Economic / Ecological Importance

Little information exists on the usefulness of these bees to the lives of the people in East 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.

Threats

InEast Africa, Nomia 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. Nomia bee populations in East Africa are likely to be affected by pests and diseases but information on this subject is lacking. Trampling by people and livestock can affect these soil-nesting species. 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

Little information exists on the usefulness of these bees to the lives of the people inEast Africa. However, there are now concerted research efforts in the region to develop best practices for conservation and management of bees 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. Trampling by people and livestock and tilling should be managed to conserve the nesting sites of soil-nesting species. 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, Gikungu MW and Schwarz MP (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 Urban R (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.

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