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What’s all the buzz about pollination?

Research & Extension
bee bees pollination buzz

Photo by Ryan Graybill.

Insect pollinator populations are declining globally, threatening the productivity of vast range of horticulture products. How we grow apples and pears has evolved over the years with a move to increased intensification, high density orchards, and protected coverings, but these changes have altered the landscape and profoundly affected the ecosystems which we rely on for managed and unmanaged pollinators.

Pollination will be under that spotlight at the Grower R&D Update in Melbourne on the 13 November. The great line-up of speakers will explore three critical areas of research development for industry.

Securing pollination through revegetation

Crops flower only briefly, however native bees and feral honey bees require food source support throughout the year from areas of diverse native vegetation. Growers can boost their free pollination services by designing and implementing native plantings into orchards.

Dr Katja Hogendoorn from University of Adelaide will explore which native plants apple and pear growers can introduce to enhance productivity through improved pollination. She will discuss the tool ‘Pollinate’ which the project team created to provide advice on how to integrate the native vegetation, explore cost benefit analysis of planting, and maintain the various plants.

Diversity of pollinators

Professor James Cook from Western Sydney University who researches the ecology and evolution of species interactions is currently working on Hort Innovation project ‘Healthy bee populations for sustainable pollination in horticulture‘ to identify how we can address gaps to deliver and support healthy pollinator populations.

The for the past three seasons the project team has explored what species are visiting and pollinating different horticulture crops, including apple, testing effects of varying field situations and climatic conditions, and determining what floral resources will support wild and managed bee populations.

At the coming session James will explore how the different pollinator species perform and the efficiency of pollination and effect on fruit production.

The team is seeing a variation in what pollinator species are active from region to region, and noticing weather conditions are influencing the outcomes locally. For example, in Orange where temperatures have been lower, honey bees play a dominant role in pollinating apple and cherry compared to Bilpin where native bees play a major role.

A lower diversity of pollinators increases the impact of threats like Varroa mite. Ecosystems that maintain native pollinators populations are more resilient to these types of threats.

Pollination in protected cropping

A study was recently conducted in New Zealand kiwifruit orchards, revealing that overhead netting changed honey bee behavior, reducing foraging activity and impacting colony health and productivity. The project has since evolved to explore several management strategies to mitigate the effects of netting.

Dr Lisa Evans from Plant & Food Research Australia will delve these key findings and the implications for apple production.

What’s on the horizon for pollination

At the Grower R&D Update in November, our experts will discuss:

  • How growers can improve managed honey bee orientation under netting and increase their understanding of the effects.
  • How to maintain colonies to potentially improve pollination efficiency.
  • Understand better the importance of cross pollination, possibly conducting genetic studies to determine the relationship of improved fruit quality and cross pollination.
  • Understand the effects of spraying.

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