Optimization of Greenhouse Crop Pollination through Artificial Homeostatic Control of Bumblebee Hive Temperature

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2019: $13,931.00
Projected End Date: 05/30/2022
Grant Recipient: The Pennsylvania State University
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Rudolf Schilder
Penn State University


  • Animals: bees


  • Animal Production: housing
  • Crop Production: beekeeping, greenhouses, pollination, pollinator health

    Proposal abstract:

    Enhancing pollination service by insects will be vital to meet increasing crop harvest demands. Bumblebees are increasingly used to fulfill these pollination needs, as they provide a less labor-intensive process compared to mechanical pollination. Bumblebees are fantastic pollinators, but have interests that compete with foraging (and therefore pollination) and are associated with colony survival. One of these is the need to regulate brood temperature within a specific range to ensure proper development of larvae. Any worker occupied with brood thermoregulation will not forage, resulting in decreased pollination service. Because brood thermoregulation is an energetically costly process, any additional energetic demands, such as mounting an immune response, will likely further reduce the number of foraging workers. We can hypothesize that enhancing brood thermoregulation artificially will enhance the number of foraging workers and increase pollination service. Here, I propose to test this hypothesis in Bombus impatiens bumblebees, with a special focus on colonies infected with the protozoan parasite Crithidia bombi. Bumblebees are increasingly used in greenhouses as they are active across a wide range of ambient conditions and perform buzz pollination, a behavior required for pollination of important crops like tomatoes. Because of this, tomato plants will be used to quantify pollination service by healthy and C. bombi-infected B. impatiens in response to artificial manipulation of colony temperature. Examining how artificial management of colony thermoregulation affects foraging rates and pollination success will allow us to provide novel recommendations for bumblebee management and colony box design aimed at enhancing commercial tomato crop yields.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1: Determine how artificial, homeostatic control of colony temperature affects pollination services to greenhouse tomatoes relative to a traditional commercial colony box, for healthy and infected bumblebee colonies.

    Objective 2: Quantify how much time workers spend wing fanning or brood incubating in temperature-controlled colonies compared to a traditional commercial colony box, for healthy and infected bumblebee colonies.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.