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Them awesome bees – a fraction of wildbees pollinate almost all our crops

One of the largest bee pollination studies so far shows how very few of the wildbee species manage to pollinate 80% of the world crops.

Even though it’s still vital to consider the preservation of biodiversity in nature for its own sake, the economic value is enormous – wild bees pollinate the global food to a worth of $3,000 per hectare of any insect-pollinated agricultural land. That means billions of dollars worth on a global scale.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications, and was led by Professor David Kleijn, based at the Netherlands Wageningen University, and was performed by a total of 58 different researchers. It lasted for three years, with scientists monitoring 1,400 crop fields in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. They found almost 74,000 individual bees coming from around 785 wild bee species on the crop fields. Today we know of 20,000 bee species, but only approximately two percent of them were responsible for pollinating 80% of the crops.

Two of the most important wild pollinators are Bombus impatiens, the common eastern bumblebee in the U.S. and also Bombus lapidarius, the red-tailed bumblebee, found in Europe.

This may sound like an invitation to focus mainly on these few, most important species of pollinators, but Taylor Ricketts, a professor in UVM’s Rubinstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and also involved with the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, explains how we need to keep the opposite of this in mind: “Species and populations can fluctuate significantly as landscapes and climates change. So protecting a wide variety of our wild bees is crucial.”

The report also gives a generous variety of methods for farmers to improve the numbers of wildbees on their land, such as maintaining wildflowers and grass strips, using organic farming techniques and keep the use of pesticides and chemicals to a minimum.

Image: USGS Bee inventory and Monitoring Lab