Ray Wills


Management of the Flora Utilised by the European Honey Bee in Kwongan of the Northern Sandplain of Western Australia.

Raymond Thomas Wills BSc (Hons)

This thesis is presented for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of The University of Western Australia

Department of Botany, May 1989

"All definite knowledge belongs to science;
all dogma as to what surpasses definite knowledge to theology.
But, between theology and science is a No Man's Land exposed to attack from both sides:
this No Man's Land is philosophy."

B. Russell (1946)
in History of Western Philosophy.
(George, Allen, & Unwin: London)


The honey industry in Western Australia relies on the native sclerophyll shrublands of the Northern Sandplain of Western Australia as a source of pollen and nectar over winter. Loss of floral resources as a result of fire can have dramatic consequences to the apicultural industry. The study was directed at identifying environmental and biological factors of importance in determining the floristic resource for the foraging honey bee in this region and to use these data to explore ecologically-based management strategies which would enhance apicultural production without deleteriously affecting the conservation values of the region.

A total of 413 vascular plant species from 192 genera in 66 families were identified from the study region, with the Myrtaceae and the Proteaceae contributing the largest number of species. Vegetation floristics and foliage projective covers were assessed at 90 permanent monitoring sites. A range of community types with variable diversity were found through the study region. Pedogeomorphic, climatic, geographic, phylogenetic and pyric factors all contributed to the observed diversity and abundance in floristic patterns. Overall, plant distributions were largely correlated with geologically-defined soil formations, but moisture gradients, proximity to or distance from other plant communities, phylogenetic constraints on habitat and dispersability, and the frequency of fire all may have influenced floristic composition in some way.

A review of the literature dealing with flower function and flower visitors concluded that the timing and duration of blooming is a function of the interplay of many factors including climate, pollinator type, phylogeny, growth form, other plant phenological cycles, mating systems and post-fire regenerative strategy. Variations in patterns of plant flowering and plant reproductive strategies in response to edaphic, pyric, and climatic factors were quantified over a period of 30 months. The timing of flowering was largely seasonally constrained, resulting in a flowering peak of 241 species in late winter. The duration of flowering appeared to be largely a reflection of phylogeny and growth form. Flowering patterns also vary in relation to species' pollination biology and post-fire regenerative strategy.

The importance of all flowering plant species as a resource for foraging by the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) was evaluated. Apis mellifera foraged widely amongst the available species, visiting 30% of all species as a source of pollen and/or nectar, but showed preferences for plant species with particular attributes. Honey bees tended to use plants which: flowered for longer; were woody perennial dicotyledons of particular taxa; were vertebrate-pollinated species; regenerated from seed after fire; were widespread and/or locally abundant; and occurred in the more diverse plant communities. Honey bees selected the longer flowering species, and it was suggested that length of blooming period may be indicative of plant reproductive effort so that species with a longer average duration of flowering may also have the best floral resource. Growth form apparently has an important influence on the size of floral rewards offered by species, while mating system limitations may be significant in determining which taxa are rewarding. While honey bees foraged widely in plants with different types of pollination syndromes, vertebrate-pollinated species were generally utilised whenever these were available.

The management requirements for areas vested for apicultural production are explored based on the attributes of melliferous species identified in the study. While short term loss of production results from the immediate effects on fire, the problem of modification of plant communities by short interval fires reducing or eliminating key honey-producing species is much more serious. It is essential that the interval between fires be increased. The possible ecological effects of the European honey bee in plant communities of the Northern Sandplain are considered; some effects may be deleterious while others may be beneficial. The impact of honey bee foraging on the pollination ecology of species must be considered. The conservation of these floral resources should be of major concern to the honey industry, and the industry needs to consider carefully the implications of utilising these areas for honey production.

Management of the Flora Utilised by the European Honey Bee in Kwongan of the Northern Sandplain of Western Australia.


Chapter 1



Chapter 2

Physical Environment of the Study Area


Chapter 3



Chapter 4

Flower Function and Flower Visitors


Chapter 5

Flowering Phenology


Chapter 6

Floral Resources of the European Honey Bee


Chapter 7

Management Implications






The first step to knowledge is to know that we are ignorant. -

Richard Cecil


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Created January 5, 1996

Last updated: January 5, 1996.