This event has now concluded but you can watch the recording below.
Join the ANU Fenner School's Professor Saul Cunningham, Sustainable Farms ecologist Angelina Siegrist & Anna Carrucan from Wheen Bee Foundation to explore the power of pollinators!
The free online webinar will cover:
- How pollinators can play a role in healthy grazing and cropping enterprises
- Encouraging pollinator populations on your property
- Our NEW guide to planting for pollinators.
The planting guide resource, “Powerful pollinators: Encouraging insect pollinators in farm landscapes” that is discusssed in the webinar can be downloaded here. Printed copies are also available to order (free except for the cost of postage) - click here to order.
Q&A - Answers to some of the questions asked by webinar participants
Q. Are any known impacts of fungicides on pollinators?
A. Fungicides on their own are not known to be harmful but as pollinators are generally exposed to a mix of chemicals rather than just fungicides alone, there is concern that the combined effects are harmful. This is a fairly new problem to arise and not much is known yet.
Q. I often see people singing the praises of honey bees within natural settings (feral bees). What do you suggest as management of these animals?
A. Populations of feral honeybees can compete with other native hollow-dependent species for habitat and can be considered biosecurity risks by commercial beekeepers. However, honey bee populations can also potentially be helpful for learning about how bees respond to different pests and diseases. There are some conflicts between honey bees and the conservation of native bees but on the other hand they’re here and well established in our environment. Rather than persecuting them, focusing on creating a landscape that is more beneficial for pollinators in general will benefit both native bees and feral bees.
Q. What groundcovers are most suitable as a nectar source in a coastal Melbourne landscape, and that might be good for beneficial insects more broadly?
A. Yes – habitat that is suitable for pollinators will also be used by a wider suite of insects and by replicating what they experience in natural environments you will see positive impacts.
Don’t focus purely on nectar, as pollen is also a very important resource for pollinators. The key idea to focus on is a diversity of flowering plants as this will provide a diversity of pollen and nectar. The Powerful Pollinator guides are designed to encourage a diversity of flowering times, habit and pollinator resources, and it's also a good idea to look for more local planting guides and native plant nurseries in your area to get an idea of specifics of what to plant. Contacts at CMAs, LLSs and Landcare are also great resources for specific species lists. But don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good - remember that something is better than nothing!
Q. Is the decline in honey bees such a big problem for the food system, since we have so many native bees? Or are native bees declining at similar rates to honey bees?
A. Unfortunately there is not enough research happening in this field to know for sure. What we do know is that native bees are vulnerable to the same threats as honey bees, such as habitat loss and application of chemicals. There are some examples where a decline has been documented, but on the whole this is a knowledge gap and a great reason for people to get involved in citizen science initiatives to try and help fill this gap. The scale of impact of pollinator decline on our food systems is often hyperbolised, but that’s not to say that the decline is not concerning. Keep in mind that 1 in 3 mouthfuls of food we eat relies on pollinators.
Q. If commercial beekeepers were permitted to locate hives in national parks and reserves would this compete unfairly with native bees with respect to nesting places and food sources?
A. This can sometimes be the case but the greater risk is honey bees occupying hollows and out-competing hollow-dependent bird and mammal species. Competition between honey bees and native bees may well be happening but it is hard to measure. In Australia the approach is not to put honey bees into the highest value conservation areas. More moderate levels of conservation such as state forests are a more appropriate setting for honey bees. It’s a question of risk management but there are definitely places where honey bees can be placed without causing great harm.
Q. Can you comment on the role of wasps and flies as pollinators?
A. Flies and wasps do make a significant contribution to native pollination. As they’re native pollinators and have co-evolved with native flora, there is a long-standing and important relationship. Fun fact - there are a few native plants which are actually wasp mimics, which means they trick the male wasp into flying in and trying to mate with it, ensuring pollination. A study that Saul Cunningham was a part of showed that pollination research as a whole has neglected looking at flies but they’re actually much more important than we give them credit for. We hope flies will be the focus of the next wave of research! Flies are not as specialised or as focused on flowers as bees are and have a much broader diet, but are still very important for pollination. For some crops, such as mangoes, flies are actually the best pollinators. We’re learning more and more about their importance.
Q. Is there a pollinator friendly weed control we can use in urban residential areas with native gardens?
A. Yes, there are a couple of herbicides which are registered for organic situations and are not meant to be detrimental to pollinators - one is called Slasher. There are also alternative weeding approaches such as steam weeding, flame weeding or hand weeding. Practices to discourage weeds in the first place are also beneficial, such as mulching, and growing plants over bare ground.
Q. For crops in our area, the big companies often require us to use chemicals and pesticides as part of the contract we have with them. Do you have any ideas about how we could address this?
A. This is a tough and not uncommon situation. A great place to start is to communicate with them that you are not pleased with chemical use. The role of pollinators is often poorly understood, so we would encourage you to open communication and explain why you would like to see changes, particularly if you’re working with a crop that benefits from pollination.
Q. In coastal SE Qld there has been a change in the movement of native bees. Traditionally we saw Tetragonula carbonaria in this area, but they are being overtaken by T. hockingsi which is a more dominant bee. Have any changes in movement been seen in solitary bee territories with a drying climate and increased bushfire activity?
A. Yes - the movement of Tetragonula hockingsi can impact T. carbonaria, as TH tend to take over weaker TC colonies. It’s difficult to know how/why native solitary bees might move as we don’t know a lot about historic patterns. The bushfires would undoubtedly have displaced many bee species and it may be a while before those species can re-enter heavily burnt areas. One thing we can try to predict is how bees respond to a changing climate if we know enough about where they are.
Q. I wonder how bee pollination can improve fruit quality?
A. Bees distribute pollen uniformly across the flower, resulting in higher levels of fertilisation. Any unfertilised areas due to under-pollination can lead to malformations in the fruit. Fertilized areas produce plant hormones which induce fruit growth, resulting in larger fruit.
Q. Should we aim to add bee hotels with diverse plant species? If so, what are the risks of introducing diseases?
A. Providing bee hotels as well as suitable plant habitat is a good idea, as it may be the only suitable nesting or breeding places for native bees and other insects until vegetation becomes more established. The risk of introducing diseases would be related to introducing bees or insects on purpose from other areas, rather than from having local insects colonise your insect hotels.
Q. Can you provide a list of cold tolerant natives (including forbs and shrubs) that are good for pollinators? We are at 850m above sea level with a generally cold dry climate but still some hot summer days. We water in new plantings and until established. Our landscape and soils have been considerably damaged by clearing and grazing on sloping fragile soils. We have many challenges in our revegetation efforts!
A. Unfortunately it is difficult to go into specifics without knowing the region. We would advise you to get in touch with representatives from your Local Land Services, Catchment Management Authority or Landcare group. Native plant nurseries can also help provide advice on what species occur naturally in your area. Keep in mind the best way to promote pollinators is to provide a diversity of flowering species which are local to your area. Good luck!