Pest species of the Australian honey bee must be managed to maintain the crucial pollination of our plants and crops.

Species such as the Varroa mite have the ability to undermine major agricultural productions and put our biodiversity at risk. But, a new initiative titled the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program is working towards eliminating all risks of this disastrous event ever occurring.

A new surveillance program has been announced to monitor pest species that threaten the Australian honey bee industry. Around 65 per cent of Australian agricultural crops are pollinated by honey bees, specifically – almond and grain industries rely heavily on the insect for crop pollination.

With the main goal of protecting our bees and pollination services, the greatest pest of concern has been identified as the Varroa mite. If left untreated in a hive, the Varroa mite will destroy the entire honey bee colony. Although not present in Australia, the varroa mite is listed in the 2014 Biosecurity Act as prohibited. Australia is one of the few countries worldwide that does not have this pest species present.

Varroa mite
A singular Varroa mite on a bee, © Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development

Prevention is better than cure for the Varroa mite

If biosecurity levels fail to maintain the exclusion of this pest in Australia, it could greatly damage honey and food production nationwide. To aid growing pressures, the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program was originally established in 2012 and became the leading surveillance program for bee pests and pest species in the world. The program concluded in 2021. Due to it’s great success, a newly funded surveillance program has already been established in a rollover from the first.

Dr Sharon Taylor who is the National Surveillance and Diagnostics at Plant Health Australia says, “The newly funded NBPSP builds on the success of the previous program by continuing to focus on monitoring for bee pests, diseases and pest bees at high-risk ports.”

“A consistent national approach is key to enhancing early detection of target pests and the project has embedded a strong coordination role to capture and monitor program activities, as well as undertake consultation for a sustainable funding mechanism for any future surveillance programs,” said Dr Taylor.

The initiative derives from the work of a multitude of groups – Hort Innovation, Plant Health Australia (PHA), the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council and Grain Producers Australia (GPA) as well as some state and territory governments.

Varroa mite
Varroa mites can detroy a whole colony of bees that are crucial for the pollination of crops. © Maxime Gilbert, Unsplash

Barry Large, a Western Australian grain producer and GPA Chair said, “Bee pollination plays a vital part in our $13 billion industry; especially contributing to yield increases for grain producers who grow canola and lupin crops.”

“GPA is proud to support this initiative as part of our national role working with PHA, governments and other stakeholders to enhance the strength of our biosecurity systems and safeguard Australian grain producers.”

Mr Ashley Zamek is Hort Innovation’s Research and Development Manager who says our lack of threatening species for honey bees is not because of chance.

“Australia’s largely healthy honey bee population is the result of intensive, world-leading surveillance efforts combined with the vigilance and support of organisations and government agencies across the country.” In 2014-15, according to PHA, the value of honey bees both managed and wild was estimated to be between $8.35 – $19.97 billion. For agricultural production, native flora and fauna and for at-home gardeners – honey bees are crucial in sustaining our current food sources.

If you want to see more about what Australia is doing to save our incredible animal species, click here.