Box–Gum woodland pollinators: the case of the mysterious urn heath

Have you heard of urn heath (Melichrus urceolatus)? I hadn’t, until July last year. It grows along most of Australia’s east coast, but only in Box–Gum Grassy Woodland ecosystems (update: also in other ecosystems! see Greg Steenbeeke’s comment below). For most of the year, it’s an unassuming, prickly little shrub, usually less than 1 metre in height. Then in late winter, it bursts into a mass of tiny creamy-white urn-shaped blooms. Each individual flower is only a couple of mm in size. But a shrub in full bloom will stop you in your tracks.

Albury urn heath

This is what happened last July, as I took my regular afternoon walk through a local urban nature reserve. The reserve (Eastern Hill in Albury, NSW) is a tiny fragment of the Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands that were once common across the region. Continue reading

Virtual Issue: Pollinator Ecology

The British Ecological Society has just published a ‘virtual’ journal issue on pollinator ecology, with all articles free to download for any reader, regardless of whether you have subscription access to the society. The articles are drawn from all five of the BES journals and cover all sorts of topical issues to do with honey bee health and biology, pesticide impacts and how management processes impact pollinators in agricultural landscapes.

And if this virtual issue isn’t enough for you, the Journal of Pollination Ecology is another permanently ‘open access’ peer-reviewed journal that publishes articles covering lots of different aspects of the wonderful world of pollination.

So click on the links to read the latest research on what modern life as a pollinator involves!

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Learning From Nature

Thank you to Rachel Bates, a freelance field ecologist from the UK, for asking me to write a guest post for her website Ecology Escapades. Rachel is keen to showcase the different kinds of work that ecologists do, and my post talked about doing field ecology research as well as the ecological significance of my study area in Victoria’s beautiful Murray Mallee region….

One of the most rewarding things about being an ecologist is the time you get to spend with Nature. As a research ecologist, those times don’t happen as often as you would like – we now spend more time at a computer, reading theory and background, analysing data, writing papers and applying for grants to do more research. However, doing field work gives you the chance to experience magnificent ecosystems, landscapes and wildlife that you might not have seen as a tourist. Those experiences, however fleeting, make the data analysis and administrative headaches all the more bearable!

My recent field work, collecting data for my PhD thesis, was in Victoria’s Murray Mallee (rhymes with ‘Sally’). The mallee is an ecologist’s paradise – full of ecological and geological wonders, and brimming with historical lessons that can guide our future. It is a Mediterranean biome, similar to the French garrigue or South African fynbos, and is one of Australia’s most enigmatically beautiful ecosystems. It’s kind of an ecological transition zone from the coastal plains and ranges of southern Australia, just before you get to the real desert in the heart of the continent. Continue reading

Pollinators Love Plants

Wild pollinator insects, especially bees, like diversity in their life. It’s not that they’re fussy, they just like to have different resources for nesting and foraging to choose from – just like us. This diversity in resources is important because wild pollinator communities aren’t just made up of bees, they include multiple species. We’ve (almost) figured out what honeybees like, and it’s easy to accommodate one species when you know the ins and outs of their biology. But ‘wild pollinators’ could mean solitary bees, bumblebees, huge hairy flies, delicate wasps, tiny midges, thrips, beetles, bugs, weevils, moths or butterflies. Some of these insects, particularly wasps and flies, may also control outbreaks of herbivorous insects, so they can provide multiple ecosystem services. Continue reading

Modern agriculture is stressing honeybees

I’ve just had this published at online news site The Conversation. Viva les pollinators!

Modern agriculture is stressing honeybees: let’s go native

Honeybees are in trouble – a stressful lifestyle and an unhealthy diet are being compounded by mite attacks – but we needn’t panic about pollination. Australia has many native bee (and other pollinator) species that could be taking care of business, if we only took better care of them.

What do we mean when we talk about “bees”?

For many, “bee” means the honeybee – any species in the genus Apis, the most well-known of which is Apis mellifera, the European honeybee. It is a generalist pollinator, which means it shows little preference when it chooses flowers to forage on. It could visit (and potentially pollinate) almost any open flower in its foraging range. It is also adaptable to a wide range of environments and is capable of being “domesticated”.

Read the rest of the article

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© Manu Saunders 2013