Al­ter­na­tive needed for pol­li­nat­ing bees

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News - BY DEAN LAW­SON

We of­ten hear about po­ten­tial dev­as­ta­tion of our food crops if the in­tro­duced Euro­pean honey bee sud­denly keeled over and was no longer buzzing in the landscape.

Many stud­ies have in­di­cated, af­ter all, that this in­dus­tri­ous in­sect is re­spon­si­ble for the pol­li­na­tion of a huge per­cent­age of our fresh fruit and veg­etable crops, equat­ing to a multi bil­lion-dol­lar as­set.

In fact, some re­search sug­gests bees over­all pol­li­nate about a sixth of the flow­er­ing plants world-wide.

There have been con­cerns that dis­ease and par­a­sites threat­en­ing the sur­vival of honey bees around the globe might one day se­ri­ously jump borders into Aus­tralia and put our im­mi­grant in­sects at risk.

There has been all sorts of analy­ses into what makes honey bees tick with re­sults of­ten warn­ing us of the per­ils that con­front us if we lose them.

For ex­am­ple, one of the lat­est stud­ies from the Univer­sity of West­ern Aus­tralia re­vealed that de­graded land­scapes af­fected the honey bee’s meta­bolic rate, putting more strain on its abil­ity to func­tion ad­e­quately.

It seems ob­vi­ous that we should make all ef­forts to se­cure the longevity of honey bees in our en­vi­ron­ment – but is it?

At the risk of up­set­ting our api­arists who pro­vide us with a won­der­ful se­lec­tion of honey prod­ucts, if pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity for crop pol­li­na­tion is the crit­i­cal is­sue, should we in Aus­tralia be ex­plor­ing other op­tions apart from an ex­otic species that might be­come vul­ner­a­ble?

Yes, we’re grow­ing ex­otic plants that pro­vide us with pro­duce and bees are ex­otic and an ob­vi­ous match, but we have a stag­ger­ing abun­dance of Aus­tralian flow­ers in our landscape that have been here for thou­sands of years.

Honey bees have only been in Aus­tralia for about 200 years so what has been or was pre­vi­ously pol­li­nat­ing the flow­ers?

The an­swer is var­i­ous types of other in­sects, birds and mam­mals, and in some cases, en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions such as wind, fire and so on.

Should we, per­haps as well as ex­plor­ing ways of se­cur­ing the fu­ture of honey bees in our en­vi­ron­ment, be re­search­ing other hardy crop pol­li­na­tors from our own back­yards such as na­tive hover flies or what­ever?

As a lay­man, I’m as­sum­ing this type of re­search is hap­pen­ing, not only for na­tional crop se­cu­rity but also in re­sponse to honey bees hav­ing the ca­pa­bil­ity of dis­plac­ing na­tive species with their vo­ra­cious ap­petite for pollen.

Al­ter­na­tive na­tive pol­li­na­tors might prove to be poor sub­sti­tutes for honey bees but we need to at least find out.

To use a few old-fash­ioned but of­ten ap­pro­pri­ate ex­pres­sions, we might be bark­ing up the wrong tree, but there are lots of ways to skin a cat and of­ten we can’t see the for­est for the trees.

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