Supporting our hard-working pollinators on World Bee Day

Have you ever wondered about the impact of fungicide applications on the pollination of fruits and vegetables, or the health of our hard-working honey bees?

Meng Yong Lim is a PhD candidate at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) and has been investigating these questions for the past several years. He is preparing to submit his thesis in the coming weeks.

We are shining a spotlight on this research today for World Bee Day, with the aim of raising awareness of the significance of bees and other pollinators for food security, biodiversity, and ecosystem health.

“My PhD project is looking at the effects that fungicides used for plant diseases in agricultural crops (sweet cherries and carrot seed crops) have on pollination, including their impact on the viability of pollen carried by bees from flower-to-flower and how they affect honey bee behaviour and health,” Meng Yong said.

In good news, the research found that fungicides do not appear to impair the foraging activity of honey bees. And, after carefully dissecting 600 honey bees, Meng Yong did not observe any negative impacts on gut health.

“We found that fungicides do not have strong adverse effects on the foraging patterns or gut health of honey bees. This means they can continue to gather pollen and nectar and maintain a healthy gut microbiome, which just like humans, is important for digestion and immunity,” Meng Yong said.

However, the research findings indicate that fungicide applications may have a detrimental impact on pollen viability which has the potential to adversely impact pollination.

“All of the fungicides tested as part of this project were found to reduce pollen viability. The magnitude of these impacts varies depending on the fungicide and crop species. Some significantly inhibited pollen germination to less than five per cent while others completely inactivated pollen viability,” Meng Yong said.

“What can happen in the field is that bees or other pollinators could be transporting dead or weakened pollen grains between flowers, which can dilute the population of healthy pollen and lower pollination efficiency.

“It means we might need more bees or harder working bees to transfer healthy pollen across the crops.”

Meng Yong said he hopes the research findings will help growers to make informed management decisions.

“I hope that my research is useful to industry and that it can provide some practical information about timing fungicide applications that is best suited to their situation,” he said.

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