Fact check: Is two-thirds of Australia’s food production reliant on bee pollination? – Fact Check


October 15, 2018 06:01:32

The declare

A joint Fairfax-ABC investigation just lately reported on allegations that a quantity of properly-recognized manufacturers of honey contained substitute components.

Featured within the report, screened on the 7.30 program, was fruit and vegetable magnate Robert Costa, who spoke on the viability of Australia’s beekeeping business and the essential position performed by bees in agricultural production.

“As a matter of fact, two-thirds of Australia’s food relies upon bee pollination,” he stated.

“That’s why we’re particularly conscious of the viability of the beekeeping industry in Australia, which is under great threat.”

Is two-thirds of Australia’s food production reliant on bee pollination? RMIT ABC Fact Check investigates.

The verdict

Mr Costa’s declare is overstated.

Experts advised Fact Check that crops reliant on bee pollination represented nearer to 35 per cent (about one-third) of complete food production.

They stated that though round 75 per cent of all crops get some profit from pollination by bees, this was not merely a case of “all or nothing”.

Rather, the pollination by bee species offered various levels of profit.

Although honey bees and different bee species are an integral half of the pollination course of for Australian crops and business pollinators, they don’t seem to be the one bugs concerned in pollination.

Flies and beetles, amongst different bugs, in addition to birds and bats, play a bigger position than is usually acknowledged.

Also, some of Australia’s most closely consumed cereals — wheat, oats and rice, for instance — are wind pollinated, whereby pollen is carried from plant to plant by the wind.

Experts additionally cautioned about utilizing the phrase “rely”. Although lots of crops did expertise elevated volumes and high quality of fruit or seed set when bees have been current, this didn’t imply there can be no product with out them.

The inference that eradicating bee species from the pollination course of would see two-thirds of our food supply disappear was deceptive, they stated.

How bees become involved

The hottest and nicely-recognized pollinator is the European honey bee, additionally recognized within the scientific world as Apis mellifera.

Honey bees are proficient staff that make frequent visits to a broad selection of plant species in search of nectar or pollen.

As bees forage, pollen attaches to the high-quality hairs on their our bodies which is then transferred from website to website, resulting in the pollination of crops and flowers. This facilitates plant fertilisation by taking pollen from a flower’s male anther (the place the pollen is launched) and transferring it to the feminine stigma (the place the pollen have to be deposited).

While this course of usually happens naturally, skilled beekeepers are additionally deployed to assist with the method for business functions. As an business, honey bee pollinators are estimated to contribute around $6 billion a yr to the Australian financial system.

The extent of bee pollination

A 2014 Senate inquiry into the Future of Beekeeping and Pollination Services was advised that 65 per cent of horticultural and agricultural crops grown in Australia require honey bees for pollination.

Saul Cunningham, a professor of Environmental Science at Australian National University, identified that whereas the determine refers back to the quantity of totally different crops requiring bees for pollination, it didn’t mirror the significance of totally different crops to general food production.

“The 65 per cent number in the Senate report is a reference to ‘counting crops’ rather than assigning the actual quantitative impact on production,” he stated.

“Not all of those crops are equally important to our food. You obviously wouldn’t want to count every species equally … In other words, weighted by volume of trade, about one in three bites of food are influenced by bee pollination.”

Are some crops extra conscious of bees than others?

The Senate report on pollination consciousness lists a spread of crop species and calculates what it phrases as their ‘dependency’ on honey bee pollination.

For occasion, almond crops have a 100 per cent dependency, based on the report, as do avocados and blueberries. Those with 90-100 per cent dependency embrace cucumbers, mangoes, apples and pumpkin.

Those least dependent are vine crops comparable to squash, and seed merchandise corresponding to beans and soy.

Professor Cunningham disputed whether or not labelling this responsiveness as ‘honey bee dependency’ was truthful, as a result of “we know for certain that most of these crops are pollinated by a wide range of species, not just honey bees.”

According to Dr Romina Rader, a senior lecturer in ecology on the University of New England, a scarcity of bees wouldn’t essentially imply no crops altogether.

“It is likely that for some crops, the fruit will be smaller and lower quality, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to have no fruit ,” she stated.

“There are a quantity of food crops that do not require bees for pollination. Fruits profit most from animal pollinators, however many vegetable crops solely require pollination for seed production and breeding functions.

“[But] for different crops, like apples and watermelon that require cross-pollination, you’d get no top quality [fruit] in any respect if you do not have pollinators.”

The consequence of poorly pollinated crops was low yields or fruit that was misshapen, which means it couldn’t be bought.

“We want to know extra concerning the totally different crop breeding methods and the pollinator dependency of totally different cultivars [a human-cultivated variety of food crops] after which synthesise the literature of research which have witnessed the kinds of pollinators visiting flowers, and put them collectively.”

She added that though rather a lot of crops relied on insect pollination, the proportion of production that depended on bee pollination was round 35 per cent.

Professor Cunningham stated: “If you take a look at all of the totally different species of crops we develop and eat that get some profit from bees, based mostly on commerce figures, you will get a quantity that is nearer to two-thirds.

“However, that’s very different to saying the amount of food that relies on bee pollination.”

Plant ecologist Dr Margie Mayfield, of the University of Queensland, stated though so much of crops did rely on insect pollination, the precise proportion was not a easy calculation.

“It’s actually a very hard number to calculate because it depends on whether you’re looking at biomass or crop numbers.”

She added: “If we’re talking about total food biomass, two-thirds seems high. A lot of our crop species don’t represent a large proportion of our food biomass. For instance, a lot of our tropical fruit are insect pollinated — but we don’t eat a lot of them.”

Dr Mayfield concluded that the widespread statistic of one in three bites was a extra correct illustration of the proportion of Australian food that depends on bee pollination, given “much of our food is meat and grain.”

The extent of the advantages of bee pollinators

Rough estimates of crops that rely on insect pollination could be misleading since they could omit the varied ranges of pollinator dependency.

A 2007 report revealed by the Royal Society, Importance of Pollinators in Changing Landscapes for World Crops, categorises crops as pollinator-dependent, pollinator-useful or as these drawing restricted advantages from pollination.

But this response to pollination varies between crop varieties and their levels of production.

For occasion, some crops solely profit from pollination for breeding and seed production, whereas for others the advantages are via the quantity or high quality of fruit produced.

The report discovered that round 75 per cent of the primary food crops do profit from pollination.

“Not rely on pollinators,” Dr Rader emphasised. “But profit.

“It’s not black and white — dependent on bees or not dependent. Pollinator dependency is totally different throughout all crops and even inside crops for various varieties of cultivars.

“We need to understand this range for Australian crop cultivars to quantify exactly how much we actually benefit from animal pollinators.”

In addition, the report discovered that a loss of insect pollinators would dramatically have an effect on the viability of a various plant business, and subsequently the range of the human food regimen, however would not have a serious impact on the production of staple food merchandise.

Other pollinators

There are a quantity of various pollinators that Australian crops depend on, together with birds, flies, beetles, butterflies, moths, bats and wasps.

For some species, pollination can happen naturally inside the flower, via a self-pollination course of.

For others, wind pollination is essential. These embrace cereal crops wheat, corn and rice, which make up Australia’s largest agricultural sector and are a serious staple around the globe.

University of New England’s Dr Rader informed Fact Check it was comprehensible that folks tended to focus extra on the honey bee as a pollinator.

“[The honey bee] is managed, it is all over the place, it is very easy to deal with and it visits rather a lot of flowers. It’s a tremendous generalist pollinator — however we additionally have to be conscious that different circumstances affect pollination success as properly, along with the honey bee.

“These embrace the timing of crop flowering, receptivity, the supply of suitable pollen, the behaviour of different pollinating bugs, the encompassing administration of farms, the circumstances the crops are grown in and the environmental circumstances, just like the temperature, rain and hail.

“All of these circumstances must be managed successfully for optimum fruit production in horticultural techniques.

“But we have to acknowledge that the honey bee is just not the one pollinator. There are solitary and social bees which might be native to Australia, in addition to flies, beetles, all types of different bugs.”

ANU’s Professor Cunningham stated: “If you ask what portion of food production depends on managed honey bees, then you definitely would find yourself with a fair smaller quantity, as a result of most pollination is completed by unmanaged bugs.

“The nice majority of crops do not have these white-boxed managed honey bees.

“And it is fairly troublesome to say what quantity of food production comes from managed honey bees in comparison with what quantity comes from all the opposite bees and bugs. But we definitely know for positive that it is a smaller fraction.”

Principal researcher: Natasha Grivas









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