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New research protects Australia’s precious pollinators

native pollinators

Australian-first research has delivered breakthrough findings and tools to secure the future of pollination-dependent crops amid ongoing threats to both managed and native pollinators.

The project, Securing Pollination for more Productive Agriculture: Guidelines for effective pollinator management and stakeholder adoption, was delivered as part of the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment Rural R&D for Profit program.

The ground-breaking research assessed the contribution of pollinators to nine crop species – apple, avocado, blueberry, canola, lucerne, macadamia, mango, raspberry, and watermelon – to allow Australian growers to implement evidence-based management strategies to support crop pollinators.

Crop pollinators contribute about $14 billion to the Australian economy annually, with the produce that depends on pollination including 35 species of fruit, vegetables, nuts, cotton, as well as oil and pasture seeds.

The project involved collaboration between Australia’s most knowledgeable bee and pollination researchers from the University of Adelaide (UoA), Australian National University (ANU), University of New England (UNE) and University of Sydney (USYD), from June 2016 to February 2021.

Dr Katja Hogendoorn, lead researcher at the University of Adelaide, said researchers found that native bees, feral honey bees and other insects all play a major role in crop pollination, but that their contribution varies by crop and year.

“Regardless of crops or region, researchers found that diversity in crop pollination depends on the presence of flowering plants and nesting opportunities in the landscape,” Dr Hogendoorn said.

“In some respects, the pollinators respond differently to the landscape. For example, most native crop pollinating bees benefit from patches of open soil, while feral honey bees rely on old Eucalyptus trees for nesting hollows. In less forested areas, the densities of feral honey bees are not high enough to provide all the pollination required. But all pollinators need food from the landscape when the crop is not in flower.”

Dr Hogendoorn explained floral support should be available nearly year-round, in close proximity to the crop, to enhance the health and diversity of pollinators and ensure that pollination services remain reliable and resilient into the future.

“Overseas, mixes of wild flowers are increasingly used in crop edges along road-sides to provide support for bees and other pollinators. Our planting advice is tailored to Australian pollinators.

“Our advice 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,” Dr Hogendoorn said.

AgriFutures Australia General Manager, Business Development Michael Beer, said safeguarding pollination served the interest of both the growers and consumers of pollination-dependent crops.

“This project aimed to secure and enhance crop pollination services by designing ways to support pollinator density and diversity to create a resilient pollinator portfolio. This research will safeguard the current and future pollination for the nine crops included in the study as well as the dozens more that rely on pollination services,” said Mr Beer.

“As part of the Rural R&D for Profit program, this project is about driving real outcomes for farmers. By following the guidelines for more efficient, secure pollination, growers can enhance pollinator diversity, which decreases the risk associated with pollinator declines and reliance on a single species.”

As a result of the project, crop and landscape management strategies and resources have been developed for growers to adopt, with many already implementing these management strategies.

Firstly, an online interactive tool – Pollin8, has been developed, targeted at apple, canola and lucerne crops in South Australia, due to their pollinator dependency, which allows growers to plan for revegetation.

“Pollin8 allows growers to run simulations on revegetating the area around their farms to support pollinators and how that affects their crop. It also allows growers to design planting strategies using a Revegetation Planting Guide,” Dr Hogendoorn said.

“A Native Bee Food Calendar also sets out which plant species provide food for native bees throughout the seasons in the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Region.”

Additionally, a free online guide that lists the pollinators across all crops studied is now available.

AgriFutures Australia and researchers will continue to work with industry groups to extend research findings, strategies and tools to growers and stakeholders.

The final report is available via the AgriFutures Australia website: https://www.agrifutures.com.au/product/securing-pollination-for-more-productive-agriculture-guidelines-for-effective-pollinator-management-and-stakeholder-adoption/

Source: AgriFutures Australia