Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Why Care About Native Bees?

From an Article in Scientific American

Honeybees have been dying in record numbers in the U.S. for at least the past two years. Experts attribute the mass deaths to a catchall condition known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), although both a cure and the culprit remain elusive. Despite as much as a 35 percent loss of bees per year, we remain almost entirely dependent on what until recently was a self-renewing annual population of billions of honeybees to pollinate over 130 kinds of fruit and nut crops.

The blue orchard bee, also known as the orchard mason bee, is one of 3,000 bee species native to the U.S. and is currently the subject of intensive study by the USDA's Pollinating Insect Biology, Management and Systematics Research Unit at Utah State University in Logan.

James Cane, an entomologist at the Logan bee lab, has been working for 10 years to increase the availability of these bees and he says there are now a million blue orchards pollinating crops in California.

The reason these bees are considered the best potential honeybee stand-ins, Cane says, is that unlike some specialist native species, blue orchard bees, like honeybees, can
pollinate a variety of crops—including almonds, peaches, plums, cherries, apples and others.

In just about every other respect, however, these bees are totally unlike their European brethren. For one, they tend to
live alone. In the wild, rather than hives, they inhabit boreholes drilled by beetles into the trunks and branches of dead trees. When cultivated, they will happily occupy holes drilled into lumber or even Styrofoam blocks.

The blue orchard bees also do not produce honey, rarely sting and, owing to their solitary nature, do not swarm. They are incredibly
efficient pollinators of many tree fruit crops—on a typical acre, 2,000 blue orchard bees can do the work of more than 100,000 honeybees. Their biggest drawback is that beekeepers can only increase their populations by a factor of three to eight each year. (Honey bees can grow from a small colony consisting of a queen and a few dozen workers to a population of 20,000 foragers in a few months.)

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