Sustainable pollination protects biodiversity

The honey bee plays an important role in pollination and food supply. Yet in Australia, a range of insects pollinate crops, each with their own challenges including disease, a volatile climate and the availability of floral resources.

These challenges, if not addressed, pose an unresolved risk to Australia’s food system and environmental diversity.

The Healthy Bees for Sustainable Pollination project is a collaborative research project conducted by the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University (UWS) and supported by Bayer.

UWS researcher Dr Amy-Marie Gilpin said the project aims to secure pollination within agricultural ecosystems through a range of tactics to support and maintain healthy and diverse pollinator populations, including honey bees, stingless bees and other insects. “We're looking at the current state of our pollinators through this project, including bee health, and how that might change into the future.”

The project assesses pollination at both a farm and landscape scale, not only addressing the crop impact, but also how floral resources within the wider environment are supporting pollinators.

Dr Gilpin says the importance of crop pollination cannot be understated, as it drives production of much of our fruits, vegetables and nuts.

“What we are finding, which is really fantastic, is a range of native pollinators are also contributing, such as the common blowfly, wasps, native bees – stingless bees in particular – and even butterflies.”

Determining what floral resources – being pollen and nectar – are available for these pollinators, is critical. Given those resources are bountiful for a short period of the year, researchers are mobilising floral enhancements on-farm to give pollinators food year-round.

“It’s this sort of work that could see the cooperation of farmers come into play by growing appropriate floral resources on their properties to better support pollinators,” Dr Gilpin said.

Hosting much of the work Dr Gilpin and her team are conducting, Bill Shields has a front row seat to world class research on at his orchard at Bilpin – and says the reason to get involved was simple.

“The Healthy Bees for Sustainable Pollination project is really important to give us an understanding of the full-scale issue surrounding pollination in Australia. Our business simply wouldn't exist unless there was something here to pollinate the blossom for our apples to form,” he says.

Dr Gilpin said that while European honey bees are critical in this process, there are a range of other bees and insects identified as having a role in pollination. “We've got the good news that native pollinators are here within our agricultural ecosystems, so now we need to learn how to support and foster their growth,” she said.

The impact of a changing climate on pollinators is also being investigated through the EucFACE research facility at the UWS Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment.

“At EucFACE we’re measuring the impacts of elevated CO2 on eucalypt floral resources, and also examining the effects of increased temperatures within our glasshouse facilities,” Dr Gilpin said.

ANZ horticulture and plantation lead for Bayer, Hugh Armstrong said supporting the Healthy Bees for Sustainable Pollination project fits directly with Bayer’s purpose in setting new standards for sustainable agriculture.

“This project is an important contributor to see how our technologies and nature can work together. An integrated system with a variety of solutions will be more sustainable into the future, protecting Australia’s farmer livelihoods, valuable crop protection products and the environment.”

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