15 Mar 2013

Scientists seek to harness insects for pollination

2:44 pm on 15 March 2013

Plant and Food scientists are in the hunt for funding to harness the help of wild insects as crop pollinators.

An international study that New Zealand contributed to has found that wild insects can pollinate crops more effectively than honey bees.

It points to the risk of relying on the honey bee as a single managed pollinator which is under siege from pests and diseases, such as the varroa mite.

A co-author of the study, Dr Brad Howlett of Plant and Food, says their work has shown that other insects account for at least half the pollination of arable crops that include brassicas, onions and carrots.

He says in New Zealand, flies are a major group of insects that contribute to pollination.

Dr Howlett says they move between flowers much better than honey bees.

He says if scientists understand insects better, they will be able to manipulate them for their pollination needs.

Another Plant and Food scientist, Dr David Pattemore, is heading a proposal to develop a diversified pollination system by managing other insects, including bumble bees.

Dr Pattemore says the scientists are submitting a proposal for government funding at the end of the month, and expect to know the outcome by August.