Hot Topics in Ecology

Forgotten pollinators

Challenges for managing wild pollinators in Australian agricultural landscapes
Dr Manu Saunders, Charles Sturt University; Dr Romina Rader, University of New England; Dr Saul Cunningham, CSIRO
  • While honey bees are a versatile and efficient crop pollinator, many wild insect taxa, including bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and moths, are equally or more efficient crop pollinators.
  • Wild pollinators can provide pollination insurance as environmental changes occur.
  • Intensive management practices and widespread chemical use in agricultural landscapes are putting increased pressure on wild pollinators in other parts of the world, but little is known about the impacts of these drivers on Australian pollinators.

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.

Hot Topic Lead Author: 
Name: Dr Manu Saunders
Email: masaunders@csu.edu.au
Phone:

Name: Dr Romina Rader
Email: rrader@une.edu.au
Phone:

Name: Dr Saul Cunningham
Email: saul.cunningham@csiro.au
Phone:

Date approved: 
Friday, September 12, 2014 - 17:28
ID Title Location Type
7153 Arthur A.D., Li J., Henry S. & Cunningham S.A. (2010) Influence of woody vegetation on pollinator densities in oilseed Brassica fields in an Australian temperate landscape. Basic and Applied Ecology 11, 406-414.
7154 Batley M. & Hogendoorn K. (2009) Diversity and conservation status of native Australian bees. Apidologie 40, 347-354.
7155 Blanche K.R., Ludwig J.A. & Cunningham S.A. (2006) Proximity to rainforest enhances pollination and fruit set in orchards. Journal of Applied Ecology 43, 1182-1187.
7156 Blanche R. & Cunningham S.A. (2005) Rain forest provides pollinating beetles for atemoya crops. Journal of Economic Entomology 98, 1193-1201.
7157 Cunningham S.A., FitzGibbon F. & Heard T.A. (2002) The future of pollinators for Australian agriculture. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 53, 893-900.
7158 Cunningham S.A., Schellhorn N.A., Marcora A. & Batley M. (2013) Movement and phenology of bees in a subtropical Australian agricultural landscape. 38, 456-464.
7159 Gaffney A., Allen G.R. & Brown P.H. (2011) Insect visitation to flowering hybrid carrot seed crops. New Zealand Journal of Crop and Horticultural Science 39, 79-93.
7160 Garibaldi L.A., Stefan-Dewenter I., Winfree R., Aizen M.A., Bommarco R., Cunningham S.A., Kremen C. et al. (2013) Wild pollinators enhance fruit set of crops regardless of honey bee abundance. Science 339, 1608-1611.
7161 Groom S.V.C. & Schwarz M.P. (2011) Bees in the Southwest Pacific: origins, diversity and conservation. Apidologie 42, 759-770.
7162 Halcroft M.T., Spooner-Hart R., Haigh A.M., Heard T.A. & Dollin A. (2013) The Australian stingless bee industry: a follow-up survey, one decade on. Journal of Apicultural Research 52, 1-7.
7163 Heard T.A. & Exley E.M. (1994) Diversity, abundance and distribution of insect visitors to macadamia flowers. Environmental Entomology 23, 91-100.
7164 Heard T.A. (1993) Pollinator requirements and flowering patterns of Macadamia integrifolia. Australian Journal of Botany 41, 491-97.
7165 Heard T.A. (1999) The role of stingless bees in crop pollination. Annual Review of Entomology 44, 183-206.
7166 Heard T.A., Vithanage V. & Chacko E.K. (1990) Pollination biology of cashew in the Northern Territory of Australia. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 41, 1101-1114.
7167 Hogendoorn K., Gross C.L., Sedgley M. & Keller M.A. (2006) Increased tomato yield through pollination by native Australian Amegilla chlorocyanea (Hymenoptera: Anthophoridae). Journal of Economic Entomology 99, 828-833.
7168 Kennedy C.M., Lonsdorf E., Neel M.C., Williams N.M., Ricketts T.H., Winfree R., Bommarco R. et al. (2013) A global quantitative synthesis of local and landscape effects on wild bee pollinators in agroecosystems. Ecology Letters 16, 584-599
7169 Klein A-M., Vaissiere B.E., Cane J.H., Steffan-Dewenter I., Cunningham S.A., Kremen C. & Tscharntke T. (2007) Importance of pollinators in changing landscapes for world crops. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 274, 303-313.
7170 Lentini P.E., Martin T.G., Gibbons P., Fischer J. & Cunningham S.A. (2012) Supporting wild pollinators in a temperate agricultural landscape: maintaining mosaics of natural features and production. Biological Conservation 149, 84-92.
7171 Saunders M.E. & Luck G.W. (2014) Spatial and temporal variation in pollinator community structure relative to a woodland-almond plantation edge. Agricultural and Forest Entomology doi: 10.1111/afe.12067
7172 Saunders M.E., Luck G.W. & Mayfield M.M. (2013) Almond orchards with living ground cover host more wild insect pollinators. Journal of Insect Conservation 17, 1011-1025.
7173 Saunders M.E., Luck G.W. & Gurr G.M. (2014) Keystone resources available to wild pollinators in a winter-flowering tree crop plantation. Agricultural and Forest Entomology DOI: 10.1111/afe.12084
7174 Rader, R., Bartomeus, I., Tylianakis, J.M. & Laliberte, E. (2014) The winners and losers of land use intensification: pollinator community disassembly is non-random and alters functional diversity. Diversity & Distributions 20:908-917.
7175 Andersen D.L., Sedgley M., Short J.R.T. & Allwood A.J. (1982) Insect pollination of mango in northern Australia. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 33, 541-548.
7176 Armstrong J.A. (1979) Biotic pollination mechanisms in the Australian flora - a review. New Zealand Journal of Botany 17, 467-508.

Further information about this topic contact:

Dr Manu Saunders
masaunders@csu.edu.au

Chair, Hot Topics Editorial Board
Dr Brett Murphy
brett.p.murphy@cdu.edu.au