Wild Bees: Alternative Pollinators

Mar 24, 2009

Scientists have long been studying alternative pollinators, especially with the decline of the honey bee population and growing concerns about "How will we pollinate our crops?" 

Now a newly published study in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) shows that wild bees, which are not affected by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), may serve as alternative pollinators.

You've seen the tiny bees buzzing around on blossoms. At first glance, you may have mistaken them for honey bees.  They're not.

Chances are you'll be hearing more about them, though.

ESA's communications director Richard Levine e-mailed us a press release today reporting the results of a three-year scientific study that took place on 15 southwestern Michigan blueberry farms. Researchers, using traps and direct observation, identified 166 bee species, 112 of which were active during the blueberry-blooming period.  " Many of these species visit more flowers per minute and deposit more pollen per visit than honey bees (Apis mellifera L.), and most of them are potential blueberry pollinators," the news release noted.

Most species were from subfamily Halictinae (family Halictidae) and genus Andrena (family Andrenidae)

The journal article, titled "Wild Bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Anthophila) of the Michigan Highbush Blueberry Agroecosystem," was authored by Julianna K. Tuell (Michigan State University), John S. Ascher (American Museum of Natural History), and Rufus Isaacs (Michigan State University).

A quote from Tuell in the news release:  "This should help growers know what kinds of bees are in the fields so that they can make informed decisions about whether they should modify crop management practices in order to help conserve natural populations of bees."

"Untreated bamboo or reeds are good materials because they provide natural variation in hole diameter to attract the broadest range of species. There are also a number of commercially manufactured options that growers can use, such as foam blocks with pre-drilled holes and cardboard tubes made to a particular diameter to suit a particular species of interest. Drilling different sized holes in wood is another option. If a grower is interested in trying to build up populations of a particular species, there are also details about how to do so available online."
Good idea. On a tour of Yolo County farms last year, we saw many  "bee condos," or nesting cavities, for the native pollinators. (See below). They're easy to make. Just like a baseball field attracts players, so will bee condos attract native pollinators. Build them and they will come. 

(By the way ESA now has a presence on Facebook, offering more opportunities for social networking.)

By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Author - Communications specialist

Attached Images:

THIS NATIVE POLLINATOR is a female sweat bee (Halictus tripartitus), so nicknamed  because it is attracted to sweat. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Sweat bee

BEE CONDO--A grower created this

Bee condo