Leaf-cutter bees are the world’s most intensively managed solitary bees, they have transformed the commercial pollination of alfalfa in US and Canada. These commercially raised pollinators are being deployed for pollination of other major crops such as cranberry and oil seed rape (OSR) Due to ever increasing demand for insect pollination and need for diversification, the request for non-honey bee pollinators is set to increase.

Although the leaf-cutter bees are solitary they exhibit gregarious nesting habits which simplifies their management and increases their effectiveness as pollinators.

Typical structure of a natural leaf-cutter bee nest (left) and the commercial nests used for deployment in commercial pollination (right)

Using the acoustic element of the iPollinate sensing system (in-hive sensor) we took part in a field experiment in Canada to assess the visitation rates of leaf-cutting bees to the OSR crop. Sensors were paced immediately outside the structure containing the leaf-cutter nests as well as at regular and increasing distance from it throughout the crop. Our preliminary results indicate that the sensor is capable of detecting the presence of insects visiting the crop and moreover distinguishing the leaf-cutter bees from honey bees. The basis for this lies in the difference in value of fundamental flight frequency of the two insect species. By refining the features we have identified in the preliminary efforts we hope to be able to provide a simple yet sophisticated tool for assessing the pollination of another important commercial pollinator.

Leaf-cutter nests in the OSR crop (acoustic sensor circled in orange)