Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Bee Teams in the Food Bowl

By Jane Dixon

Apiarists and conservationists are at loggerheads, with implications for food security and the fate of indigenous species.

Jane Dixon is a Senior Fellow at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

With more than one-third of the world’s crops dependent on animal pollination, widespread declines in bee colonies over the past 30 years – attributed to diseases, industrial agriculture and urbanisation – are causing alarm among food security experts. In Australia another threat is posed by conservationists who consider the most common pollinator, the European honeybee, to be a pest.

More than 60% of beekeepers use public land for honey production, with almost one-quarter of Australia’s honey produced from state forests. In pursuit of an ecosystem that consists only of native flora and fauna, governments have been lobbied to phase out apiary access to forests and national parks.

From the commercial beekeeper’s perspective, the actions of conservationists represent the latest serious challenge to the viability of Australian apiary. From a public health perspective, this policy shift could diminish Australia’s capacity to supply many of its own horticultural foods.

The problem for nature conservationists centres on the European honeybee, Apis mellifera, which is claimed to be the most critical of all insect pollinators. Based on thousands of years of accumulated knowledge, this honeybee is efficiently used by apiarists to target crops at the optimum time, place and scale of coverage. “Wild” pollinators (primarily indigenous bees) are less efficient...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.