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Completed project

Strengthening and enabling effective pollination for Australia (PH15000)

Key research provider: Plant and Food Research NZ
Publication date: Tuesday, February 20, 2024

What was it all about?

From 2016 to 2023, this investment identified key pollinators across different Australian crops and produced recommendations for pollination management to optimise yields and minimise the risk of pollination failure.

The project delivered best practice pollination information for six crops, presented in concise, crop-specific manuals available using the links under the 'Project outputs' box.

For many crops, limited information exists on best practices for pollination and there is a particular gap in understanding how reliant crop production is on honey bees versus other pollinators. Honey bee pests and diseases, including the Varroa mite (Varroa destructor), have potential to dramatically alter ‘passive’ crop pollination.

This research successfully identified effective pollinating insects for several different crops including avocado, macadamia, watermelon, blueberry, lychee, papaya, and almond. The relative abundance of these insects varied across crops, regions, and individual farms. Honey bees were the most abundant pollinators in five out of the seven crops studied. Notably, honey bees were the predominant flower visitor to watermelon grown in the Queensland region during spring and early summer. They were found to be highly effective pollinators of melons, likely contributing to the majority of fruit set during this period.

Considering the recent arrival of varroa mite to Australia and its potential to impact the supply of managed honey bee colonies for pollination, it is critical that growers continue to deploy honey bees as managed pollinators, and use their colonies as efficiently as possible. Based on results from manipulation trials, the research team have provided recommendations for honey bee hive placement, stocking rates, and colony feeding regimes, to standardise and enhance their pollination potential for crops such as watermelon and macadamia.

Many crops studied (e.g. lychee, avocado, and macadamia) were visited by a diverse assemblage of non-honey bee insects. The abundance of these insects varied between regions and farms within a region – a relatively dominant insect at one site might be represented by only a few individuals at another site, underscoring the role of site and temporal variation in pollination ecology, and the need for practical on-farm monitoring and assessment systems. The research demonstrated that some of these insects, including native bees (e.g. Tetragonula sp.), are effective crop pollinators, and that certain crops and production areas may be reliant on wild, non-honey bee pollinators, such as moths (papaya) and flies (for fruit set in avocado grown in Sunraysia). Considering a broader range of managed species alongside honey bees and encouraging wild pollinators could positively impact crop yields and bolster the resilience of pollination services.

To support the growth of the Australian beekeeping industry and ensure adequate pollination services, it is necessary to manage honey bee health issues that hinder colony survival and growth.

This research program also explored new monitoring methods for American foulbrood (Paenibacillus larvae) and behaviours in honey bees conferring resistance to varroa mite, such as Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH). The research team identified a promising genetic marker (SNP 9-9224292) that has potential to be used to select for VSH traits in queen breeding programs in Australia and NZ and as part of individual beekeepers’ queen management.