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Completed project

Securing pollination for productive agriculture: guidelines for effective pollinator management and stakeholder adoption (PH16004)

Key research provider: AgriFutures Australia
Publication date: Friday, April 16, 2021

What was it all about?

This investment provided funding into an existing Rural R&D for Profit program, to ensure that additional year of field work could be conducted. This project collected and disseminated information needed to design meaningful action to enhance pollination security and resilience for farmers of pollination dependent crops.

The project team conducted field research to develop:

  • an understanding of the identity, density and efficacy of a diverse range of insect flower visitors of eleven pollination dependent crops
  • an understanding of the nature and extent of the main threats to pollination security
  • crop and landscape management strategies to secure pollination services in the future.

Key findings

The project team identified a wide range of insects that visited the crop flowers and found that the most efficient and abundant pollinators differed per crop, per region and over time. What they have in common is that they depend on the presence of flowering plants in the landscape.

They found that the proximity and composition of native vegetation influences the abundance and diversity of crop pollinating species, with effects noticeable up to ~200 m into the crop. Feral honey bees play a major role in crop pollination, in particular in dryland lucerne and apple. However, in less

forested areas, their densities are not high enough to provide all the pollination required, because in addition to nectar and pollen, their presence depends on the availability of nesting hollows and water.

All pollinating species rely on the presence of floral resources, i.e. pollen and nectar. Different species are active at different times of the year - also when the crop is not in flower. Therefore, to enhance the health and diversity of pollinators and ensure that pollination services remain reliable and resilient now and in the future, floral support should be available nearly year-round, in close proximity to the crop.

Most crop pollinating insects, including honey bees, are generalist feeders that have a broad diet, and require the presence of a variety of pollen and nectar sources. Therefore, the recommendation is to plant a wide range of local, easy to grow native species. Planting designs can focus on understorey species, hedgerows or whole area plantings. These plantings also convey a range of other benefits for farm productivity.

In addition, nesting substrate for volunteer pollinators can be provided in various ways. This includes bundles of sticks-with-pithy-stems for reed bees; open, compacted well-drained soil for ground-nesting furrow and nomia bees; and leaving old paddock trees in place as they provide nesting hollows for feral honey bees and stingless bees.

Recommendations

To enhance future and geographically wide-ranging adoption by primary producers, the project team recommend:

  • Further assessment of the pollination efficacy of a suite of pollinators for a range of crops.
  • Research and formulation of planting advice that complements additional crops and cropping areas outside of South Australia, as the advice produced in this project is limited to three cropping regions in South Australia.
  • Research and formulation of planting advice that can provide a range of co-benefits additional to pollination. For example, shade and shelter for livestock, erosion control, fire retardancy.
  • Future research should provide experimental evidence of the additional co-benefits of floral resource management and plantings, not only for pollination services, but also for biological control, carbon sequestration, sun and wind protection for stock, protection from snail invasions and erosion prevention.

ACT NOW

Growers can access www.pollin8.org.au to access a variety of resources produced by the project, including regional-specific planting guides, a simulation model to investigate the costs and benefits of revegetation and a native bee food calendar.