Australia and India join forces in $7m pollination project

SUBSCRIBE to our fortnightly email newsletter to receive more stories like this.

Honey bee on flower: Honey bees and other insect pollinators are crucial to crop productivity.
Honey bees and other insect pollinators are crucial to crop productivity.
Debbie Ballentine, Flickr CC

Leading pollination researchers in Australia and India are set to collaborate in a new, large-scale project that aims to improve our understanding and management of key crop pollinators.

The five-year, AU$7 million project, announced in mid-July 2016, will be funded jointly by Australia and India, and will draw on the combined expertise of leading pollination researchers in both nations in a bid to improve our management of key insect pollinators.

The multifaceted project will focus on key challenges facing fruit and vegetable growers on both continents who are dependent on insect pollinators for their livelihoods. 

Project goals

The bicontinental research team, led by University of Western Sydney’s Professor James Cook and AICRP’s Professor RK Thakur, will direct its work towards:

  • characterising and securing alternative pollinators: reducing growers’ dependence on honey bees by identifying the roles of various insect pollinators in the pollination of key horticultural crops in field situations;
  • increasing pollen and nectar on farms: developing a better understanding of the contribution of floral resource species to bee colony and population health, and developing “farm-level floral enhancement schemes”;
  • determining the effects of climate change on pollinators: testing ways in which “climate manipulations” influence the timing, quality and quantity of nectar and pollen available to bees;
  • bee virus research: ascertaining which viruses are harboured by native bees and to what extent these viruses are shared by honey bees; and
  • grower involvement and adoption: informing and educating growers and land managers about strategies for improving the health of local bee populations including the management of floral resources, diseases, soil and pests.
Honey bee on yellow flower: Protecting the health of insect pollinators is crucial if we're to ensure the continuing viability of fruit and vegetable producti
Protecting the health of insect pollinators is crucial if we're to ensure the continuing viability of fruit and vegetable production.
Westpark, Flickr CC

Pollinator project team

The new project will involve the efforts of leading pollination researchers from the University of Western Sydney (UWS)Bayer CropScienceSyngenta Asia-Pacific and Greening Australia, with support from Horticulture Innovation Australia (HIA) via its recently-launched Pollination Fund. It will run in parallel to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research's All India Coordinated Research Program (AICRP) on Honey Bee Health & Training, currently being undertaken at 26 research centres across the Indian sub-continent.

Project partners Syngenta Asia-Pacific, Bayer CropScience and Greening Australia will contribute extensive data and substantial expertise in the field.

  • Syngenta has conducted several large-scale pollinator-related projects including Operation Pollinator and Hives on Farms.
  • Bayer Australia and Bayer India ran the successful Feed-a-Bee and Bee Care programs to accelerate the uptake of pollinator-friendly practises on farm.
  • Greening Australia has experience in using native wildflower species as “floral resources” for pollinators.
European honey bee on fruit blossom: bees are key pollinators for many food crops.
European honey bee on fruit blossom: bees are key pollinators for many food crops.
Westpark, Flickr CC

Why is this project important?

Boosting our efforts to improve our bee colonies’ chances of survival and sourcing viable alternate pollinators are crucial, time-critical tasks, asserts Professor Cook.

“Australia is the last country in the world that is free of the parasitic Varroa mite that is thought to be a major factor behind widespread colony collapses in the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan,” he notes. “If Varroa takes hold in Australia, it will decimate populations of both managed and wild European honey bees, and we will then be far more reliant on native pollinators.”

Prof Cook says part of the joint project will be developing new strategies to help growers and landowners protect the health of pollinating insects on their land.

“Given the fundamental importance of bees and other pollinators to successful crop harvests and the health of natural ecosystems, there is a significant lack of detailed knowledge about their overall health and wellbeing,” he says.  

“Researchers will map the health of pollinating insects such as honeybees, native stingless and solitary bees, and outline the resources needed to support them.”

The new bi-continental research program will help conserve the diversity of pollinator resources in both nations, boosting crop productivity across India and Australia, says Prof Thakur.

“Increased floral biodiversity on farms can stabilise pollinator populations and contribute to resilience and profitability of farm operations,” he contends.

According to Horticulture Innovation Australia Chief Executive Officer John Lloyd, the project will help bring greater certainty to growers and consumers regarding the future viability of fruit and veg production.

“This exciting $7 million project will deliver ground-breaking research that will ultimately help position Australia as a world leader in bee health and pollination research and development,” Lloyd says.

“For this reason, it is crucial that we put practical measures in place to support honey bee health and identify and develop new pollination opportunities and techniques.”

Further information

For more information, visit Hort Innovation’s website or contact the HIA on 02 8295 2300.

SUBSCRIBE to our fortnightly email newsletter to receive more stories like this.

Comments

Error | AgInnovators

Error

The website encountered an unexpected error. Please try again later.