Globally, one third of food production depends, at least partly, on animal pollination. Honey bees are the most widespread managed pollinator in the world. Pollinators are insects and animals that transfer pollen from the male sex part of a plant to the female sex organ of another plant to facilitate reproduction.
In Australia, nearly two-thirds of all agricultural production needs honey bees for optimal pollination, which means these buzzing insects are critical to our survival. But their future looks grim, with a rapid decline in bee populations across the globe. Habitat loss, disease, pesticides and climate change are all contributing to the decline – with devastating effects on the environment worldwide.
It is vital to know how well native bees and insects can support crop pollination if honey bees decline in Australia. To help protect bees and better understand native pollinators, Greening Australia staff are working with top researchers from Western Sydney University and other organisations. This work is part of a $7 million five-year pollinator program, funded through a Hort Innovation co-investment scheme, that supports research into issues impacting bees, such as bee viruses, floral resources for bees, and climate change.
For example, within Greening Australia’s Native Seed Production Area at the university’s Richmond campus, researchers are investigating what nectar and pollen resources native wildflowers can offer to pollinators. With over 100 species of rare native plants growing at this location, it has become a research ‘hive’ where scientists are exploring solutions to this looming ecological tragedy.
If you want to take action to help pollinators in your own patch, here are a few ideas.
Introducing locally native plants into your garden can be encourage insect biodiversity. Remember to choose a variety of plants and flowering types (such as those that bloom at different times or during alternate seasons) so there is something for native bees to pollinate all year round. As a general guide: the brighter the flowers, the better.
Some common pesticides used to control unwanted insects – especially ones that work by leaving behind a residue – may have unintended side effects on beneficial insects such as bees. Look into alternative gardening practices that cause less harm; for example, encouraging natural predators of pests.
The majority of native Australian bees are solitary rather than social. They live alone in wood, gaps between rocks, and the stems of some plants. You can create a bee B&B in your backyard to help provide homes for bees whose habitats are being destroyed by land clearing and urbanisation. A bee hotel can be as complex or simple as you like, but make sure you use non-treated wood and drill different-sized holes for different-sized bee species.
There is plenty of information online about how to help address this situation (locally and beyond). Why not read further to increase your understanding, and link in with people and networks who have similar goals? You may also consider supporting those organisations that are seeking to protect these special pollinators.