Protecting crops by preserving their pollinators

Protecting crops by preserving their pollinators

Farmers rely on insects like bees, flies and butterflies to pollinate many types of crops, including canola, lucerne, almonds, berries, melons, apples and pears.

Many plant species need pollinators to transfer pollen between flowers of the same species to produce seed or fruit. Insects, including bees, are among the most important pollinators. 

Worldwide, insects are struggling to survive because of widespread clearance of native vegetation.

They are struggling to find food and nesting opportunities in our modified landscapes, while pesticides increase their vulnerability to disease.

Pollination deficits are increasingly common, and farmers have become dangerously reliant on the managed hives of a single pollinator, the honey bee.

This presents humanity with a big problem. Economically, the total value of pollination to Australia alone is estimated at A$6 billion per annum being reliant on a single managed pollinator is a risky strategy.

Shortage of pollinators may lead to price increases for highlight pollination dependent fruit, vegetables and nuts, and this can change global food supply.

In search of a solution, our researchers are leading a national collaborative project to find ways to improve conditions for pollinators.

This includes strategies for native revegetation in cropping regions to provide appropriate food and shelter for insects under threat.

Working closely with environmental bodies, the research team will also provide planting cost-benefit analyses; produce detailed planting guides; and develop a landscape design tool to enable farmers to tailor strategies for their local environment.

While the research initially focuses on Australia, lead researcher Dr Katja Hogendoorn says the process will provide a valuable model for similar efforts internationally.

“This is a really important step for crop-farming sustainability.

“We’re making a vital contribution to the establishment of international protocols for native revegetation.”

Another key project goal will be to reduce the biosecurity risk posed by the Varroa mite, which has devastated wild honey bee populations overseas.

“Varroa’s impact can be much better controlled in managed hives, and fortunately our native pollinators are immune to it.” Dr Hogendoom says.“So it’s vital that we enhance our farmers’ ability to sustain these hives and native pollinator populations.”

Tagged in Agriculture, food and wine, insect pollination, food production, biosecurity, featured