Wild bees could save the day for farms as honeybees decline


Wild bees could save the day for farms as honeybees decline

Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2013

Bryan N. Danforth, a bee expert and Professor of Entomology at Cornell University, discusses the growing importance of wild, native bees as alternative pollinators. As the non-native, domesticated honeybee (Apis mellifera) continues to show declines due to pathogen infection and heavy pesticide use, wild bees appear to be playing an increasingly important role as agricultural pollinators, especially in smaller, less heavily industrial, agricultural settings.

Danforth says:

“The domesticated honeybee will continue to have problems throughout North America, primarily due to the impact of viral, fungal, and bacterial pathogens and mite ectoparasites. We need to be documenting, monitoring, and studying the contribution of native, wild bees to agricultural crop pollination. Recent studies have shown that native bees can contribute significantly to pollination in a variety of crops, including blueberries, cranberries, watermelons, pumpkins, squashes, and a variety of orchard crops, including apples.

“In our studies of native bees in apple orchards in Central New York, we have identified over 90 species of native bees that are likely contributing to apple pollination.  Detailed studies in my lab by researchers Mia Park and EJ Blitzer show that native bees are highly effective apple pollinators – better than honeybees on a per-visit basis. The increasing awareness of the role that native bees play in crop pollination is leading to a dramatic shift in agricultural practices across the country.

“We are already seeing a shift in the behavior of apple growers in New York state. Fewer and fewer apple growers are renting honeybee colonies for apple pollination and we have found that growers are willing to adopt practices that promote native bee abundance and diversity because when the native bees are abundant, they no longer need to bring in honeybees. Farmers who adopt pollinator conservation strategies may find that this is a more cost-effective method for achieving pollination than renting honeybee colonies.”

NOTE: The Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation has a great website with lots of useful information on bee conservation: http://www.xerces.org/pollinator-conservation/

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Joe Schwartz


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