We all know pollination is important right? But HOW important? Well Ms Gilpin pointed out that approximately 80% of all plant species on earth need pollination in order to reproduce. And as if this wasn’t enough to highlight the importance, she then went on to state that 75% of our food crops require pollination, and the global annual economic value of insect pollination was estimated to be Є153 billion during 2005 (i.e. 9.5% of the total economic value of world agricultural output).
European Honey Bees were introduced to Australia in the early 1800s to ensure early settlers had a good supply of honey. Today they are used to not only produce honey, but also for large scale crop pollination. But what research is starting to reveal is that feral populations of European honey bees are having an adverse impact on our native bee populations and their ability to access and pollinate native vegetation.
Ms Gilpin’s research looks at the interaction between the feral European honeybee and native plants and pollinators, and the interaction between the feral European honeybee and invasive mass flowering crop species.
Globally, there is a trending decline in both domestic and wild pollinator populations. Declines in bumble bees (UK and Europe), butterflies (USA, Mexico), and native bees (Australia), are evident.
In regards to bees CCD- Colony Collapse Disorder is happening globally, and there has been an astounding 59% of colony loss in USA and 25% in Europe between 1947 and 2005. Much of this loss is attributable to an ectoparasite Varroa destructor from Asia, which can destroy an entire hive in one night. Australia is the only continent that doesn’t have it- yet.
In Australia, the main culprits for native bee decline include habitat degradation and destruction, pesticides, introduced plants, and the widespread introduction of the generalist pollinator the European honeybee (Apis mellifera).
Foraging behaviours of the European honeybee differ to native bees and it is suggested that this may lower the amount of cross pollination occurring, and negatively impact on the genetic diversity of plants. This is a threat to biodiversity in the long run. Our native plants largely rely on appropriate pollination to introduce different genetics to their offspring. Without this, the resilience of species is lowered, and plants will be less able to cope with catastrophic events we are likely to see with climate change. On top of this, the feral European honeybee has also been found to displace endemic wildlife from tree hollows such as birds, bats and other insects which are also important pollinators. Yet despite these known facts, there is still insufficient research about interactions between European honey bees and Australian biota to fully describe their impacts, or research into the significance native pollinators play in the agricultural and natural landscape.
But all is not lost, while domesticated European honeybees are used for large-scale crop pollination in the agricultural sector, and there are rogue populations of this species around, you can encourage native bees to your own yard or property by building them a place to nest. Holes in hardwood make great homes for resin bees (Chalicodoma), holes just need to be 4mm to 9mm wide and at least 80mm deep, and bundles of bamboo canes can provide nest sites for resin bees (Chalicodoma) and leaf cutter bees (Megachile), but ensure that you fix a roof to offer protection from the rain.