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Ongoing project

Strengthening and enabling effective pollination for Australia (PH15000)

Key research provider: Plant and Food Research NZ

What’s it all about?

This project is delivering sustainable pollination services for Australian crops by improving the understanding of pollination requirements. It is also looking at key threats to honey bees and provide crop-specific resources to encourage growers to improve their pollination practices.

Information regarding best practice is currently limited for many crops and, in particular, little is understood about the degree to which crops are dependent on managed versus feral honey bees or other, unmanaged pollinators for this ecosystem service. Honey bee pests and diseases, including Varroa mite, have potential to dramatically alter ‘passive’ crop pollination. Therefore this research program aims to determine key pollinators across a range of Australian crops and provide pollination management recommendations to maximise sustainable yields and reduce risk of pollination failure.

The project has three main research areas:

  • Determining current pollination requirements to provide honey bee stocking rate recommendations

  • Identifying and developing management options for alternative pollinators to provide resilient services

  • Developing tools to aid honey bee health through new testing methods for American Foulbrood (Paenibacillus larvae) and honey bee behaviours that confer resistance to Varroa mite.

The project is conducting field work involving the following crops:

  • Almond
  • Avocado
  • Blueberry
  • Lychee
  • Macadamia
  • Melon
  • Papaya.

Field trials and data analysis are in their final stages and there is an increased focus on information dissemination and technology transfer to growers.

This reporting period has seen publication of three peer-reviewed research articles relevant to pollination of watermelons in Australia – an industry which is especially reliant on honey bees for pollination. The first paper explores the differences in pollen from diploid and triploid watermelon plants, and pollen flow and germination of pollen from these flowers. Subsequent papers discuss the community of insects found visiting watermelon flowers in different growing regions across Australia, and assesses the behavior and per-visit pollinator efficacy of these insects. Together they provide a clearer picture of the most important pollinators for watermelon in Australia. All papers are publically available. A fourth watermelon manuscript relevant to management of honey bees in the crop is in prep.

The findings discussed in these papers are being communicated directly to growers through popular articles to be published in early 2023, as well as presentations/workshops in conjunction with the Melons Australia Roadshow. The project team are also working with Melons Australia to explore options to communicate these findings and management recommendations through the new grower communication platform.

Remaining fieldwork in papaya has faced delays as unusual weather events in SE Queensland have damaged trial plantings near Samford. These plantings are being re-established and we are exploring options to adjust aspects of the trial to be done on commercial farms in Queensland. Macadamia trials exploring the efficacy of pollen versus nectar foraging bees will be completed in the 2023 flowering season.