Honey bees busier near other bees

January 18, 2013

From: Futurity


UC DAVIS (US) — As demand for food crops increase, researchers find that honey bees pollinate more when other bee species are close by.


When blue orchard bees and wild bees—such as bumble bees, carpenter bees, and sweat bees—are foraging in almonds with honey bees, the behavior of honey bees changes, resulting in more effective crop pollination, explains Claire Brittain, lead author of the study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.


Almond orchard in Capay Valley, Yolo County. (Credit: Claire Brittain)

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The results of the study, which was conducted in California’s almond orchards in Yolo, Colusa and Stanislaus counties, could prove invaluable in increasing the pollination effectiveness of honey bees, as demand for their pollination service grows.


“These findings highlight the importance of conserving pollinators and the natural habitats they rely on,” says Brittain, a visiting researcher at the University of California, Davis. “Not only can they play an important direct role in crop pollination, but we also show that they can improve the pollination service of honey bees in almonds.”


California’s almond acreage now totals 800,000s, and each acre requires two bee hives for pollination. Honey bee-health problems have sparked new concern over pollination services.


“In orchards with non-Apis (non-honey bees), the foraging behavior of honey bees changed and the pollination effectiveness of a single honey bee visit was greater than in orchards where non-Apis bees were absent,” the researchers wrote in their abstract.


Brittain says that the field experiments “show that a diversity of pollinators can improve pollination service, through species interactions that alter the behavior and effectiveness of a dominant pollinator species.”


“This is one of our first demonstrations on how to increase the efficiency of honey bee pollination through diversification of pollinators,” says study co-author Neal Williams, assistant professor of entomology at UC Davis.  “With increasing demands for pollination-dependent crops globally, and continued challenges that limit the supply of honey bees, such strategies to increase pollination efficiency offer exciting potential for more sustainable pollination in the future.”


The declining population of honey bees, particularly due to colony collapse disorder (CCD) is troubling. Bee scientists attribute the mysterious malady to multiple factors, including pests, parasites, diseases, malnutrition, and stress.


“Almond is a 3 billion dollar industry in California,” says Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist and professor at UC Davis, who initiated the project with Alexandra-Maria Klein, a professor at Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany. “Our study shows that native bees, through their interactions with honey bees, increase the pollination efficiency of honey bees—the principal bee managed for almond pollination—and thus the amount of fruit set.”


“Now we know about bee behavior—that they move more between orchard rows when non-Apis bees are around—we need to study the reason why they move,” Brittain noted. “One route we will be exploring is the chemical footprints that the bees are leaving on the flowers.”


Source: UC Davis

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