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For more food, we need wild bees

Wild bees, such as this Andrena bee visiting highbush blueberry flowers, provide important pollination services to agriculture.
[Photo by Rufus Isaacs]

Wild insects pollinate food crops more effectively than managed honeybees, a new study appearing online in Science Express reports.

Farmers can control their own honeybee hives, the decline of wild pollinators may pose a more alarming threat to food production. That's because farmed honeybees only add to the pollinating power of the wild insects and can't replace their pollination services, Lucas Garibaldi and colleagues at Universidad Nacional de Río Negro in Argentina found.

Without steps to conserve wild species and protect their habitats, "the ongoing loss of wild insects is destined to compromise agricultural yields worldwide," the researchers conclude.

A separate study of plant-pollinator interactions in Illinois illustrates how wild pollination services can suffer from species and habitat loss, as well as climate change. Laura Burkle at Washington University and colleagues examined area networks of plants and wild pollinators using data collected in the late 1800s, the 1970s, and 2009-2010.

They found that the quality and quantity of pollination service declined over time. Pollination suffered due to the eradication of half of the original bee species in the area, along with mismatches in flowering times and peak bee activity.

These mismatches were probably due to temperature shifts and changes in the plant and bee ranges. These studies show that lots of buzzing bees aren't just annoying – they are important helpers for growing the food we eat and the flowers and plants that we enjoy.