Verifying the origin of Australian honeys by analysis of their pollen content
The University of Melbourne
Project code: PRJ-009770
Project stage: Closed
Project start date: Friday, July 31, 2015
Project completion date: Monday, February 19, 2018
National Priority: HBE-Identify and develop technology for improved hive performance.
This project will analyse the pollen content of representative samples of Australian honeys with the aim of developing objective pollen analytical criteria for verifying the geographic authenticity of honeys sourced in Australia.
Pollen analysis of honey (melissopalynology), is widely used in Europe to verify the authenticity of unifloral honeys, but has not generally been used in Australia. This may be because the majority of Australian honeys are derived from Eucalyptus species, the pollen of which is not generally distinguishable at the species level. Moreover, European honey verification laboratories are generally ignorant of the palynological characteristics of Australian honeys, but have found some Australian honey samples unrecognisable even as “Eucalyptus honey”(RIRDC 2014, Value Adding to Honey). Hence mechanisms for the international recognition of the authenticity of Australian honey are poorly developed at best, and misleading at worst.
The Australian honey industry would benefit from an internationally recognised certification process that could verify the Australian origins of a honey sample. The principal aim of this project is to develop baseline data on the pollen content of individual honeys, which could subsequently be used to develop such a verification process. This project will also explore whether it is possible to identify honeys more narrowly, to geographic region or, in selected cases, to unifloral source. These goals will be accomplished primarily by careful attention to variation in the presence of relatively rare accessory pollen types unique to Australian vegetation, in contrast to accessory types unique to other landmasses.
The University of Melbourne
This proposal directly addresses Objective 2 of the RIRDC Honey bee & pollination program (HBPP) 5 yr plan, to “Increase the…profitability of beekeepers” because an improved basis for recognition of the provenance and authenticity of Australian honey should help efforts to expand markets both domestically and for export. The proposal also is potentially relevant to HBPP Objectives 3 and 4, to “Increase understanding of the role of flora”, and “Understand the role of pollination”, because currently there is little independent data demonstrating the foraging preferences of honey bees in natural vegetation or where bees are employed to pollinate crops.
The likely eventual introduction of the Varroa mite implies there will in the future be greater reliance on the use of domestic bees for pollination services, and increased costs for beekeepers to maintain healthy hives. HBPP R&D Priority 1 suggests there is a need to improve the efficiency of crop pollination by honey bees, and understand the effects of pathogens on bee foraging. Both of these goals would benefit from more detailed baseline data about foraging behaviour of bees within natural and cultivated vegetation, prior to the introduction of the Varroa mite.