Crop production at risk if we rely on honeybees alone

Honeybees pollinate 75% of food crops but relying solely on honeybees could place crop production at risk warned a CSIRO scientist.

Dr. Saul Cunningham from CSIRO questioned our reliance on honeybees for pollination in a keynote address to the Ecological Society of Australia this week.

Dr Cunningham said, "Honeybees are declining in many parts of the world as Varroa mite spreads. When the mite arrives in Australia, we are going to need a plan B to maintain production of many of our crop species."

 "Native bees could be the back-up plan, but could also be used immediately to increase crop production," he said.

There are over 1,500 native bee species in Australia. Many are stingless, most do not live in hives and some are already helping to pollinate crops.

Dr Cunningham said, "Our research shows that native vegetation grown along the edge of paddocks can increase the number of native insects that visit crops, ultimately leading to more fruit production."

The native blue-banded bee can increase tomato yields by 20-24% over the current method of hand-pollination. This bee is widespread and common on mainland Australia and has the potential to pollinate not just tomatoes, but eggplant and sweet peppers as well.

Dr Cunningham said, "Native bees might not be the only answer to reduce our exposure to loss of pollinators, but they are part of the solution.  Diversifying your options for pollination could be the way of the future.”

Dr Cunningham was invited to speak at the annual conference of the Ecological Society of Australia as the winner of the 2015 Australian Ecology Research Award.  

Contact

Dr Saul Cunningham

0409 623 324