Pollination & Botanical Research
Honey bees are highly organized social insects with elaborate systems of communication. They have been reared for decades by both commercial and small scale farmers for their honey and beeswax. In our Elephants and Bees Project, the knowledge of the bees’ defense mechanism has been exploited to act as a natural deterrent for crop raiding elephants by establishing beehive fences around small-scale farms. The hives get naturally occupied by honeybee colonies swarming within the area and are protected from excessive sunlight, pests, and predators. With live bee colonies, our beehive fences are now not only reducing harmful crop raids but the bees are also helping to provide an additional income to the farmers in the form of honey and candles from the beeswax. However, there is a third vital benefit that the beehive fences are providing to the farms – pollination services.
Our pollination survey research will document diversity, trends and distribution patterns of the honeybees themselves, other flower visitors and their forage plants within the Elephant and Bees Project area. The study is being led by our Elephants and Bees Post-Doc, Dr. Flora Namu, a pollination researcher and lecturer from Kenya’s Karatina University. Together, we have identified hundreds of pollinators and we are recording whether these insects visit each indigenous flower type for nectar and/or pollen. This fascinating study is being assisted by our team of Elephants and Bees interns both from within Kenya and further afield.
One of Kenya’s most experienced ethno-botanists, Anne Powys, has been helping us to identify all the natural plants in our study area, highlighting which plant species are important bee fodder, particularly during the dry season. We have now collected and pressed hundreds of plant specimens around Sagalla which are stored in a new herbarium in the Elephants and Bees Research Center. The herbarium stores and preserves these essential plants creating a baseline reference for our pollination survey as well as a valuable asset for future studies by students and other researchers.
We are always on the look out for good interns and students who are interested in this botanical and pollination element of our research to volunteer and help us with our survey fieldwork tasks.