We need more bees – and more bee species!

Whether we love them or we’re scared of them, we all know how important bees are to our ecosystem, and we really rely on them. Estimates suggest that a third of the food we consume relies on pollination primarily by bees.

But research from Rutgers University appearing this week in the journal Science report that the larger the area the more species of wild bees are needed to pollinate the crops. This is the first time that increased pollination as a result of a more diverse range of bee species has been confirmed that it occurs in nature. Scientists in the study observed, collection and identified over 100 species of bees in the wild that were pollinating crops on 48 farms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania over years. It was found that more than half of the species were required for pollination at one or more farms in one or more years.

In a press release, lead author  of the research, Rachael Winfree, a Rutgers University-New Brunswick ecologist has commented; “Our results confirm the importance of biodiversity in keeping the planet habitable for human beings, at least if our findings apply to other ecosystem functions as well,” Domestic honeybees in North America are under attack from colony collapse – a hive disorder where the majority of worker bees in colony suddenly disappear, leaving behind the queen, and causing the community to die off over winter. In the face of these disasters, wild pollinators are even more important, with scientists hypothesizing that they are responsible for pollinating as much as half of the crops worldwide.

So how can farmers attract more species of bees onto their land to increase the pollination of their crops? Winfree has some great advice in the press release, saying  “Farmers can plant fallow fields and road edges with flowering plants, preferably plants whose flowering periods are different, because wild pollinators need to be supported throughout the growing season, They can reduce pesticide use and avoid spraying during crop bloom when more bees are in the crop field.”

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