The role of native bees in apple pollination
While honey bees (Apis mellifera) are widely viewed as the most important pollinators of agricultural crops, more and more evidence is suggesting that native bee species are in fact contributing significantly to crop pollination. This is especially true in apple orchards where there may be as many as 60-80 species of native bees visiting apple blossoms during the bloom period (see sidebar). Many of these native bee species appear to be important pollinators and many local apple growers are relying increasingly on native bees for apple pollination.
We are conducting a long-term survey of native bees in apple orchards in the Finger Lakes regions of New York in order to understand what role the native bees may play in apple pollination. Our surveys indicate that native bees may outnumber honey bees in many orchards and we are trying to determine what orchard management practices promote native bee abundance and diversity. Many local apple growers no longer bring honey bees into their orchards - they are relying increasingly on the naturally occurring native bees for apple pollination. We believe that native bees may provide a viable, economically feasible alternative to honey bees for apple pollination. This is especially important now that honey bees are in decline in North America.
Our project is funded by USDA-Hatch and USDA-AFRI grants. This project involves multiple undergraduates (Lori Moshman, Andrew Debevec, Jamer Bellis, and Calvin Howard), one graduate student (Mia Park; mgp27[at]cornell.edu) and one post-doc (EJ Blitzer; ejb278[at]cornell.edu).