A project to identify and protect the dominant forage sources that sus- tain honeybees throughout the year has been started by the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology of Stellenbosch University, says Stellenbosch University Honeybee Forage Project Pollination and Ecosystem Services MSc researcher James Hutton-Squire.
The Honeybee Forage Project aims to identify those plant species in the country that are the most significant nectar and pollen resources for honeybees. In this way, forage resources can be identified and protected, reducing the pressure on honeybees to find adequate food sources.
“For us to rely on honeybees to provide the pollination service we require for our foodstuffs, we need to ensure that honeybees have the necessary nectar and pollen resources they rely on for survival,” he says.
Worldwide, a third of all human dietary requirements are reliant on animal or insect pollination – honeybees provide 90% of that service.
“This means that honeybees going about their daily nectar and pollen collection provide pollination for about a third of all our foodstuffs. Without these dedicated workers, we could potentially lose an significant variety of our everyday foods,” Hutton-Squire explains.
Several organisations are engaged in various aspects of the South African honeybee research to ensure their future.
“We do not rely on South African honeybees to meet our honey demand, but rather to meet the demand for pollination of a wide variety of agricultural crops. From deciduous fruit in the Cape to sunflowers and tropical fruits in Limpopo, honeybees play a critical role in feeding South Africa,” he notes.
There is enormous pressure on honeybee populations. Some of the biggest threats include agricultural pesticides and agrochemicals, habitat loss and changing land uses, the loss of forage resources and an increasingly wider range of honeybee pests and diseases, he says.
“In South Africa, we are not immune to any of these threats and although honeybees are indigenous to Africa, we are just as reliant on their pollination service as the rest of the world. To continue enjoying a diverse and nutritional diet, it is essential that we start to protect the honeybees that make it all possible.”
“If a wild swarm moves onto your property, phone a beekeeper who can remove the swarm for you, instead of exterminating the colony. A fantastic way to support your local bee colony is to plant a bee-friendly garden. Flowering plant species provide an aesthetically pleasing surrounding for your home and are also a wonderful food source for bees,” he concludes.