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Alternative pollinator research aims to safeguard horticulture

13 Jul 2014

Around two-thirds of fresh fruit and vegetables require pollination by animals, particularly honeybees. However reliance on honeybees for pollination is becoming increasingly risky due to the spread of Varroa mites and other diseases affecting hive health.

In the face of honeybee decline, it is therefore vital to have insurance strategies to maintain crop pollination. In New Zealand there are many other insects that pollinate crops, including bumblebees, native bees and flies. Unlike honeybees these insects are not directly managed, but are often strongly affected by different land-use practises.

As part of a large government-funded research programme on alternative pollination strategies, researchers at Plant & Food Research and the University of Auckland are studying how different insect pollinators work together, and how these communities change with increasing land-use intensity.

"A wide range of insects visit crop flowers, and these species can make an important contribution to pollination. We are developing ways to use these other species, so that growers are not reliant on managed honeybees as their only pollination strategy." says Dr. David Pattemore, leader of the Plant & Food Research-led research programme.

The research team is currently seeking farms within the Waikato region that would have a spare corner of accessible land to cultivate a 50m x 50m plot and plant with pak choi seed. The seed would be sown in mid-October 2014 and researchers would return in December during flowering for regular assessments of pollinators, and would follow the plot through until seed harvest (approximately February 2015).

"The aim of this project is to assess how the surrounding environment influences the range of pollinator species present in crops, and how these differing pollinator communities work together to pollinate the crops." said Jamie Stavert, a PhD candidate at the University of Auckland.

It’s an exciting project that should provide new insight into pollinator communities, the challenge right now is setting up suitable trial sites” says Stavert.

If you are interested in being involved in this study, please contact Jamie Stavert (021 0235 6137 or )

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