Issues with honey bees such as colony collapse disorder have increased the cost of honey bee rentals to fruit growers and in some cases, pollination hives may be difficult to obtain. In the past, abundance of honey bees made it unnecessary to study the effects of native bee pollinators. The reduction in honey bee pollination services demands a better understanding of native pollinators.
A group of scientists* has investigated pollination by native bees in New York apple orchards. The numbers of seed per fruit (a measure of pollinators) was positively correlated with both wild bee abundance and the number of bee species. Honey bees did not fully compensate for absence of wild bees. This suggests that honey bees may be over rated and native bees under rated as pollinators of apple orchards. The follow up question, “How can apple growers actively maintain wild bee species richness and functional diversity in their orchards?” Obvious candidates are management of alternative food sources for periods when apples are not blooming and other landscape measures that promote bees. What are the best management practices? Further research is needed to answer the question.
*Eleanor J. Blitzer, Jason Gibbs, Mia G. Park, Bryan N. Danforth. Pollination services for apple are dependent on diverse wild bee communities. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 221 (2016) 1–7.