Restoring pollinator habitat

Pollination is a critical ecological process responsible for the healthy functioning of natural and agricultural ecosystems. Restoring feeding habitat for threatened bird and mammal pollinators can help ensure their survival.

Pollination

Pollination occurs through the interactions of nectar-feeding animals and flowers, frequently within a single plant or between neighbouring plants.

Pollination can also occur over much longer distances across the landscape. Highly mobile birds and bats move over large areas when feeding and disperse pollen hundreds of metres and sometimes several kilometres.

It promotes long-distance genetic transfer and increases genetic variation in the plants and plant populations the animals visit. Genetic variation builds ecological resilience in ecosystems, and can improve their capacity to withstand or adapt to human-driven change.

Threatened pollinators

There are several threatened birds and mammals in NSW that play important roles in maintaining critical ecological functions through pollination across the landscape (Table 1).

Shortages of nectar and pollen often occur through winter and early spring. These shortages, known as resource bottlenecks, have been shown to affect body condition, reproduction and mortality, increasing pressure on threatened pollinators.

Table 1: Bird and mammal pollinators listed as threatened in New South Wales.

Birds

Common name (NSW conservation status)

Mammals

Common name (NSW conservation status)

Regent honeyeater (Critically endangered) Grey-headed flying-fox (Vulnerable)
Swift parrot (Endangered) Common blossom bat (Vulnerable)
Mangrove honeyeater (Vulnerable) Eastern pygmy possum (Vulnerable)
 Purple-gaped honeyeater (Vulnerable)  Yellow-bellied glider (Vulnerable)
 Black-chinned honeyeater (Vulnerable)  Squirrel glider (Vulnerable)
 Purple-crowned lorikeet (Vulnerable)  
 Little lorikeet (Vulnerable)  
 Pied honeyeater (Vulnerable)  

The nomadic migration patterns of these animals mean they can’t be protected in a static system of conservation reserves and they are dependent on off-park conservation efforts, particularly on privately-owned land.

There is a need to not only protect what feeding habitat remains, but replant, regenerate and restore key habitats.

Guidance is now available for restoring feeding habitat for long-distance pollinators.

Restoration projects following these guidelines will:

  • help conserve pollinator networks
  • build resilience in new plantings
  • benefit local conservation efforts
  • improve landscape functionality in rural areas.

Plantings to restore and conserve pollinator networks should prioritise plants that:

  • provide food during bottlenecks of resource availability (bridging plants);
  • support diverse pollinator networks by providing food resources to a large number of species (framework plants); and/or
  • provide rich resources that attract large numbers of pollinators (magnet plants).

Restoration plantings and natural regeneration in NSW should target winter-flowering trees that are used by a range of pollinators. Trees that flower in early spring should also be considered. The species listed in what to plant are highly productive and their mass flowerings attract large numbers of nectar-feeding birds, bats and marsupials.

Recommendations for tree species are provided at regional scales. It is important that fine-scale patterns of natural distribution for individual species are used to guide local planting decisions. Contact Local Land Services, your local council, Landcare NSW, Greening Australia or other local conservation networks for advice.

What to plant

Box ironbark communities on fertile slopes and plains on the western slopes

Winter-flowering species: Mugga Ironbark, White Box

Spring-flowering species: Yellow Box, Inland Grey Box

Coastal floodplains and alluvia of the north and central coasts

Winter-flowering species: Forest Red Gum, Swamp Mahogany

Spring-flowering species: Narrow-leaved Red Gum, Turpentine

Coastal floodplains and alluvia of the far north coast

Winter-flowering species: Five-veined Paperbark, Grey Ironbark

Coastal dunes

Winter-flowering species: Coastal Banksia

Lowlands and coastal ranges of the central and south coast

Winter-flowering species: Spotted Gum, Swamp Mahogany

Spring-flowering species: Grey Ironbark, Forest Red Gum

How and where to plant

Although some species of eucalypt flower early and may produce flowers in less than ten years, many do not begin flowering for up to 20 years.

Mature trees with large boughs generally flower more intensively and produce greater volumes of nectar than younger trees or trees grown in conditions where their canopies are constrained. Planting trees at low densities speeds canopy development and increases the rate of flower production with age.

Trees planted in riparian areas or other sites that provide access to water (such as near farm dams) often flower more frequently than trees planted in drier conditions.

Trees planted on relatively fertile soils may be more productive than trees planted on poorer soils.

Large area plantings or plantings less than one kilometre from existing habitat may be visited by greater numbers and varieties of pollinators.

Plantings close to existing mature trees with hollows are more likely to attract pollinators that roost in hollows. It may take more than 100 years for tree hollows to develop. While nest boxes can be used to encourage some hollow-dependent species into plantings, many pollinators do not use these artificial roosts.