Managing Flies for Crop Pollination

Page last updated: Friday, 18 October 2019 - 8:38am

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) will lead a $5.74 million five-year national research project to examine the potential for flies as an effective pollinator for commercial horticultural crops. Hort Innovation is the major funder for the project focused on the use of new insect pollinators to complement the use of bees and improve horticulture production.

Pollination is vital to the success of many fruit and vegetable crops, with pollination-dependant crops in Australia worth almost $6 billion per year, and in WA around $700 million per year.

Various stresses on honeybees worldwide means researchers are looking at different insects and new methods to pollinate commercial crops to help meet horticulture needs. While bees are the most widely-used and well-known crop pollinators for crops, a range of insects are natural crop pollinators.

The‘Managing Flies for Crop Pollination’ project is led by DPIRD, in collaboration with the University of Western Australia, Western Sydney University, University of New England, Seed Purity Pty Ltd and Biological Services, with funding through Hort Frontiers co-investment - an initiative of Hort Innovation with support from the national avocado industry levy.

Project research

Flies are often considered by people to be a pest. It is important to note that there are many native and non-native fly species, which exist in the Australian environment.

Flies offer multiple benefits as pollinators in that: different species are present all year round, they regularly visit flowers for nectar where their hairy bodies pick up and move pollen, they can be mass-reared and they don’t sting workers.

This research will specifically target fly species to determine if they are effective pollinators for commercial avocado, berries (blueberry, raspberry and strawberry), hybrid carrot seed and brassica seed crops, mango and lychee.

This project will provide the knowledge base to identify different insect pollinators that can be used in conjunction with honeybees in specific horticultural industries.

Stage 1

Stage 1 will occur over the first three years of the project and involve:

  • surveys of field populations of flies in major growing regions across Australia of  avocado, berry bushes, strawberries, seed carrot/brassica crops, mango and lychee during flowering will identify the most likely fly species capable of being effective pollinators. 
  • using both large whole tree enclosures and small cages around individual flowers to assess the pollination effectiveness of selected fly species.
  • examining individual fly species preferences for target crop nectar types, specifically avocado and blueberry nectar, which has never been done before. 

Stage 2

Stage 2 will occur over years 4 and 5 of the project and involve:

  • developing rearing techniques for the most promising fly species that have been identified, that will enable mass production. This will support their ultimate commercial use in horticultural settings.  This work includes glasshouse trials on strawberry pollination at Western Sydney University using the new state-of-the-art Hort Innovation/WSU research glasshouse.