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The Trigona species (stingless bees), their important and role of pollination

in the higher plants


Arbind Mani Tripathi
tripathi_555@hotmail.com
Horticulture Department
Mejo University, Thailand
Introduction
Bees are social insects which are closely related to wasps and ants. The bodies of bees
are divided into head, thorax and abdomen, with three pairs of legs, pairs of segmented
antennae and two pairs of wings on the thorax. The queen lays eggs in the wax cell by the
ovipositor that is modified in the workers to form a sting. Bees are living in colonies. They
have division of labour in which individuals carry out particular duties. There are three kinds
of bee in a colony, a few hundred drones or males, one or two egg-laying female or queen,
and from 300 to 100,000 thousand workers (bees’ number are varied on species and
environment) [Anonymous, 2009e, Baconawa, 2009]. The mature queen is easily recognized
by her large abdomen. Bees have  a   combined   mouth   parts,  so  they   can   both   chew   and   suck 
(whereas grasshoppers can chew and moth can suck, but not both) (Anonymous 2009c).  Honey
bees are primarily distinguished by the producing honey, beeswax and pollination. Honey
bees are belongs to the members of the tribe Apini and genus Apis. They represent only a
small part of the approximately 20,000 known species of bees (Anonymous, 2009a,
Anonymous, 2009b). Also some other types of related bees produce and store honey, but only
members of the genus Apis are true honey bees. The largest bee in the world is a Indonesian
resin bee or leafcutter bee (Megachile plutowhose) which females can attain a length of
39 mm while the smallest bee is Trigona minima, a stingless bee those workers are about
2.1 mm long (Anonymous, 2009a).
Stingless bees
Stingless bees are very diverse in behaviour, but they are highly eusocial. Stingless
bees are the tribe of Meliponini in the family Apidae, and closely related to the common
honey bees and found in most tropical or subtropical regions of the world. Stingless bees are
not active all year round; they are less active in cooler weather. Unlike other eusocial bees,
they do not sting but will defend by biting if their nest is disturbed. They are living usually
nest in hollow trunks, tree branches, underground cavities, or rock crevices. 500 stingless
bees’ species are recorded and they are classified into five genera: Melipona, Trigona,
Meliponula, Dectylurina and Lestrimelitta and some of them like Trigona spp. and Melipona
spp. are the honey producing bees. Australian stingless (Teragonula carbonaria) bees
produce less than one kilogram honey but that is the prized as a medicine in many African
communities (Anonymous, 2009e).

Trigona species
Trigona is the largest genus of stingless bees and have many subgenera. Trigona is a
genus of the Meliponini tribe which is found extensively in tropical regions. It extends from
Mexico to Argentina, India, Sri Lanka to Taiwan, the Solomon Islands, South Indonesia and
New Guinea (Michener, 2000 cited by Klakasikorn et al. 2005) but no members of the genus
occur in Africa (Anonymous, 2009f). The two species(Trigona binghami and Trigona minor)
are new added to the list of 30 species recorded earlier by Schwarz (1939), Sakagami et al.
(1985) and Michener and Boongird (2004) cited by Klakasikorn et al. (2005) making a total
of 32 stingless bees in Trigona species are currently recorded from Thailand. The newly
recorded species were found in HM Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden in Maerim, Chiang Mai,
Chanthaburi and Mae Hong Son Provinces, Thailand (Klakasikorn et al. 2005).
During 2004 to March 2005 in the lower mixed deciduous forest at the Golden Jubilee
Thong Pha Phum Project, in Kanchanaburi Province, 2 genera (Trigona spp. and
Hypotrigona spp.) and sixteen species of the stingless bees were found in this area, namely
Trigona apicalis Smith, T. melanoleuca Cockerell, T. atripes Smith, T. canifrons Smith, T.
thoracica Smith, T. terminata Smith, T. ventralis Smith, T. flavibasis Cockerell, T. iridipennis
variety 1, T. iridipennis variety 2, T. iridipennis variety 3, T. iridipennis variety 4,
Hypotrigona scintillans, H. pendleburyi and H. klossi . These Trigona species’ morphological
characters are given in fig. 1.
The diversity of Trigona spp. and their resin and gum collecting behaviour mostly
depended on environmental factors. The bees preferred to collect resin and gum from 16 plant
families including Anacardiceae, Dipterocarpaceae, Euphobiaceae, Hypericaceae, Meliaceae
and Moraceae. During the rainy season they collected resin and gum all day time while
during the dry season start to afternoon until late in the day. T. apicalis collected resin and
gum to make the largest number of propolis compared with the other bee species (Inson and
Malaipan, 2006).
Fig.
(
1
)

Trigona apicalis Smith (2) T. melanoleuca Cockerell (3) T. peninsularis Cockerell (4) T. collina Smith (5) T.
canifrons Smith (6) T. thoracica Smith (7) T. terminate Smith (8) T. ventralis Smith (9) T. flavibasis Cockerell
(10) T. iridipennis variety 1 (11) T. iridipennis variety 2 (12) T. iridipennis variety 3 (13) T. iridipennis variety 4
(14) Hypotrigona scintillans (15) H. pendleburyi variety 1(16) H. klossi
The cytogenetic study of 31 species of genus Trigona by the Costa et al. 2004 and
found (all of the species) females had 2n = 34chromosomes and males had n = 17
chromosomes. The C-banding patterns showed that the karyotypes of these species consisted
mainly of acrocentric and pseudoacrocentric chromosomes.

Pollination
Pollination means the transfer of pollen grains from anther to stigma by the help of
biotic and abiotic agents with same plant or same kind of species. After reaching of pollen
grains in plants then fertilization or sexual reproduction take place. Pollination is a necessary
step in the reproduction of flowering plants and resulting in the production of offspring. The
pollination process as an interaction between flower and vector was first addressed in the
18th century by Christian Konrad Sprengel (Anonymous, 2009d). It is important in
horticultural crops because of fruits are the end product of pollination which gets after
fertilization. There are two types of pollination such as abiotic and biotic pollination.

Abiotic pollination
Abiotic pollination means where pollination is taking place without the involvement
of living organisms or transfer of pollen by help of wind and water. It’s quite rare, only 10%
of flowering plants are pollinated without organisms. This form of pollination is predominant
in grasses, most conifers, and many deciduous trees. In the aquatic plants pollination being
through water which releases their pollen directly into the surrounding water. About 80% of
all plant pollination is biotic. Of the 20% of abiotically pollinated species, 98% is by wind
and 2% by water (Anonymous, 2009d).

Biotic pollination
It is antonyms of abiotic pollination or it means when pollination is taking place by
the help of living organisms like insect, birds, etc. are called biotic pollination. There are
roughly 200,000 varieties of animal pollinators in the wild; most of them are insects
(Anonymous, 2009d). Pollination by insects (bees, wasps, ants, beetles, moths and butterflies
and flies) often occurs on plants due to their attractive developed colour petals and a strong
scent. And also pollination is doing by vertebrates such as birds and bats. Plants adapted to
using bats or moths as pollinators typically have white petals and a strong scent.

Mechanics of pollination
Some times the terms "pollinator" and "pollenizer" are confused, for clear
understanding the term pollinator means the agent of biotic or abiotic things which are help to
transfer the pollen from source to definite place while term pollenizer is the plant that
develops as the pollen source for same or other plants. Some plants are self-compatible and
can pollinate themselves while other plants have chemical or physical barriers to self-
pollination and need to be cross-pollination. In pollination management, a good pollenizer is
a plant that provides compatible, viable and plentiful pollen and blooms at the same time
because of pollination requires consideration of pollenizers. According to pollenizers,
pollination can be classified in two ways like cross-pollination (with a pollinator and an
external pollenizer) and self-pollination (basically without pollinator).
Plants and pollinator interaction due to biological and physical features such as colour shape
and odour of the flower and it is governed by the energy needs. The pollinators are highly
selective in their floral visits and shown to choose those flowers which best meet their
energetic needs. The energy needs and foraging dynamics of pollinators are dependent upon
prevailing weather conditions which regulate the schedule of pollination activities (Abrol,
2005).
Pollinators and agriculture
Pollinators provide an important ecosystem service to both natural and agricultural
ecosystems. Pollinators ensure fruit set development and dispersal in the vast majority plants
in both ecosystems. In turn, plants provide food and nesting resources for pollinators. The
process of securing effective pollinators to service agricultural fields is not always easy.
There is a renewed interest in ensuring pollination services through practices that support
pollinators.
Pollinators like honey bees, birds, bats and insects, plays crucial role in flowering
plant for the production of fruits and vegetables. Without the help of pollinators those plants
cannot reproduce and they can pollinate two-thirds of our food crops (Anonymous, 2009h
cited by Anonymous, 2009g). The countries like Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, France,
Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, China, Argentina, Mexico, India, Netherlands, Korea,
developed the beekeeping industry, and increased crop production tremendously. In Israel the
beekeepers are able to commercialize the culture of bumblebees for crop pollination,
particularly for greenhouses and they export these bees throughout the world. The fact is
there, is no country on this planet that has productive crops without a developed beekeeping
industry(Baconawa, 2009). The crops and pollinator species are belongs to each other and the
world’s food supply depends on the health of these pollinators. There are more than 100,000
different animal species or perhaps as many as 200,000 species to playing a role in
pollinating the 250,000 types of flowering plants on this planet. The annual monetary value
of pollination services in the global agriculture industry could be as high as $200 billion
(Anonymous, 2009i cited by Anonymous, 2009g). Honey bees pollinate approximately $10
billion worth of crops in the United States annually (Anonymous, 2009h, Watanabe, M.E.
1994 cited by Anonymous, 2009g); however, of the crops that make up most of the world's
food supply, only 15% are pollinated by domesticated bees, while at least 80% are pollinated
by wild bees and other wildlife (Anonymous, 2009h, Prescott and Prescott-Allen. 1990;
Ingram, et al. 1996b cited by Anonymous, 2009g). Australian farmers rely heavily on the
introduced Western honey bee to pollinate their crops.

Trigona species (Stingless bees) and crop production


The plants and the bees are made for each other because of their development are
closely related. If the bees are allowed to cross-pollination, the crops are able to increase up
to 40% in production. The bees are absolute pollinators compared to bats, birds; among
others due to their maximum numbers for example Trigona colony has a maximum of
100,000 workers while Apis mellifera could have 60,000 maximum numbers of workers
(Baconawa, 2009). The stingless bees have been shown to be valuable pollinators of crops
such as macadamias and mangoes (Anonymous, 2009d). The pollination effectiveness of two
species of stingless bees (Tetragonisca angustula Illiger and Nannotrigona testaceicornis
Cresson) and Africanised honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) was determined for the ornamental
plant Salvia farinacea Benth. All three species of bees highly increased the seed production
in comparison with pollinator-deprived plants (Sanchez et al. 2001). They may also benefit
strawberries, watermelons, citrus, avocados, lychees and many others. In the Philippine the
Trigona spp.are better pollinators than the Apis species because they are very efficient and
effective under this conditions. Pollinator bees, particularly Trigona, have great markets in
Japan and Korea. These countries are now importing Trigona species from Australia. The
Japanese are now appreciating the value of Trigona over the Apis species because of they are
worry of the stinging behaviours of the Apis spp. Trigona have very low tendency to swarm
because of more than two queens per colony, also rare to absconding and longer working life
up to 60 days/worker. Trigona bees’ workers foraging habit up to 500 meter radius it means
more intensive pollination of crops near hive. Also they have very short tongue so they can
gather more nectar and pollen compare of other species. Trigona species are highly tolerance
to the pest and diseases because of their smaller size and extensive use of propolis which
serves as germicidal and pest repellent also they can highly tolerance to heat because of their
propolis canopy (Baconawa, 2009). Due to above mentioned characters, Trigona species are
the best pollinator for pollination in horticultural crops.

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