Pollination Short-circuited: Honeybees were introduced into Australia shortly after European settlement. It would not have been long before some swarms became feral and occupied tree hollows, rock overhangs and other sheltered sites.
Honeybees are now found throughout Australia and may be observed visiting the flowers of native plants. Many Australian plants have developed pollination mechanisms that require birds and native insects but not honeybees.
Many species, such as Correas and Grevilleas have narrow tubular flowers that have nectar producing glands at the base of the blooms below the anthers and stigma (the male and female parts). Small insects and the narrow beaks of honeyeaters are able to penetrate the narrow flowers to reach the nectar. On the way they will either pick up pollen, from the anthers, or deposit pollen, from other flowers, onto the stigma. In this way cross pollination takes place and genetic diversity is maintained. Exotic honeybees cannot squeeze into these narrow flowers to reach the nectar. They are equipped with a strong proboscis and have learnt to punch a hole through the base of the flower to reach the nectar. This action short-circuits the pollination process, reduces seed production and genetic diversity.
Some research, undertaken in Western Australia , indicates that seed set has decreased in some native plants due to the feeding habits of honeybees. Their short-circuiting activity also reduces the food available for native birds and insects.
Honeybees are a permanent fixture in the Australian environment. In some states commercial hives are banned from National Parks in order to reduce the impact on the flora and fauna. This is probably a case of “locking the stable door after the horse has bolted” or, in this case, “closing the hive after the bees have swarmed” as there are so many feral hives in the environment. Honeybees travel long distances in search of food and the bees from commercial hives, situated away from National Parks, will find their way into these protected areas.
We are not able to prevent honeybees visiting the gardens at Yallaroo but we are able to assist indigenous insects including native bees. We are planting species that have small flowers that are not attractive to honeybees. Many Australian members, of the Myrtaceae family, have small flowers that attract a wide range of native insects. These include Astartea, Babingtonia, Baeckea and Leptospermum.