Position: Head of research team Field: Honey bees and pollination Organisation: Plant & Food Research, Ruakura
For Dr Mark Goodwin, working with pollination has its challenges. Most crop plants only flower for a few weeks a year, so that’s all the time he’s got for experiments. If he wants to check something or try a new idea, he has to wait another year.
I get excited when I find out something nobody knew before or when I can change the way people think or do things.
During his work for a PhD in 1985–87, Mark found that previous guesswork about the pollination of kiwifruit, which was a new crop then, was wrong. People had noticed that honey bees didn’t visit flowers early in the morning. The idea grew that it was too cold for them, so hives were put on crates to raise them off the cold ground. Mark’s research found that kiwifruit flowers didn’t collect pollen before 9 am, which was why bees didn’t visit earlier. No more putting beehives on piles of crates!
Mark also suggested putting sugar syrup in beehives in kiwifruit orchards as a way to change the behaviour of the bees and increase pollination. Within a short time, this practice was taken up around New Zealand and abroad and continues today.
Mark also hopes to make a difference in the fight against American foulbrood, a bacterial disease of bees that kills whole colonies. If successful, New Zealand will become the first country to eradicate this disease.
For Mark, life is about the birds as well as the bees. In his spare time, Mark is creating a book of photographs recording all the bird species found around Port Charles, near the tip of Coromandel Peninsula. He’s taken photos of 36 of the 38 birds known in the area, with just the crafty pheasant and the high-flying skylark to go. This interest appeals to the scientist in Mark, as he has to understand the behaviour of the birds before he can catch them on camera.
This article is based on information current in 2012.
In June 2016 Mark received the inaugural Apiculture New Zealand Peter Molan Award in recognition for his research on bees. See here for more information from Pant & food Research..