Over 50 Australian crops depend on insect pollination. The ubiquity of the European honey bee has led to complacency over the need for pollinator conservation in Australia. Yet, globally, honey bee colonies are in severe regional decline due to multiple stressors, including intensive management, widespread pesticide use, and pests and pathogens that spread easily through stressed colonies. Relying on a single pollinator species poses a significant risk for food production.
Wild insect pollinator taxa can be equally or more efficient pollinators than honey bees and both wild and managed pollinators are needed for optimal fruit set. Wild pollinators enhance farm productivity when honey bee numbers or activity are limited, potentially providing pollination “insurance” in the event of honey bee declines, but also face similar environmental stressors.
Australia has a diverse and unique insect pollinator fauna. Native bee, fly, beetle and moth species are known pollinators or flower visitors in a number of crop systems, particularly tropical and subtropical fruits, vegetables and nuts. Social stingless bees pollinate macadamia and other crops, and a small number of colonies are managed for pollination services in eastern states.
Limited historical data on regional pollinator communities, particularly in temperate and arid regions, makes it difficult to identify if pollinator declines are occurring in Australia. Recent studies from natural and modified landscapes show that landscape homogenisation, isolation from natural vegetation and lack of within-farm plant diversity negatively affect wild pollinator communities in Australian agroecosystems, and pollinator species richness, especially of native bees, is generally greater in native remnants than modified systems. Identifying our wild pollinator taxa and understanding how land use change and management impacts them is vital to Australia’s agricultural future.