Honey production in Western Australia is down more than half this year as honeybees are affected by recent drought conditions that have resulted in failure of blossom in a number of plants important for honey production.
QE II Fellow Associate Professor Boris Baer from The University of Western Australia-based Centre for Integrative Bee Research (CIBER) said beekeepers need to feed their bees now to keep them alive and not expect them to produce honey.
The recent fall in honey production comes on top of declines in honeybee populations nationally and world-wide, Associate Professor Baer said.
"Honeybees don't just make honey," Associate Professor Baer said. "About a third of our food including most fruits and vegetables, require pollination by bees.
"As well as climatic conditions, parasites and pathogens are known to kill honeybees," he said. "Australia's geographic isolation has so far been an advantage, because bee diseases elsewhere have not reached our shores. However, two bee threats, the small hive beetle and the Asian honeybee, have now established themselves as pests in Australia, and the arrival of more pests such as the extremely dangerous Varroa mite is expected within the coming decade. We have to find a way to safeguard Australian honeybees and their pollination services."
Professor Baer has been awarded a short-term Fellowship to join the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin where he will work with experts to address the honeybee problem.
"The work at the Institute for Advanced Study will be very important because I'm currently involved in building a team that will apply for a grant to establish a Cooperative Research Centre to study honeybees and pollination," Associate Professor Baer said.
"UWA has been proposed for major activities and CIBER would become the main research hub for a program on honeybee immunity and diseases. I hope my stay in Berlin will help set up research programs to manage honeybee diseases."
Kings Park and Botanic Garden will also be involved in a program to study the importance of honeybees for natural ecosystems.
For more information: http://www.ciber.science.uwa.edu.au/news.html