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Hundreds of Native Bee Species Can Also Pollinate Crops

Beatriz Moisset

Scientists think wild bees can be as helpful in pollinating certain crops as honeybees.  

University of Wisconsin Madison grad student Rachel Mallinger is in the Northwoods Monday talking about the value of the state’s native bees.  WXPR’s Natalie Jablonski spoke with Mallinger about wild bees and the online identification guide she developed to help people appreciate wild bee diversity.

Mallinger says while honeybees are nonnative, there are hundreds of species of native bees that also help pollinate crops. 

“When I say 500-600 species, people are blown away. Especially when you say that the honey bee is just one species. And then when you start showing them pictures, many of them have seen these bees but didn’t realize what they were, and then when you show them pictures people are like, ‘oh yeah I’ve seen those, that’s really cool.’”

Many farmers keep or rent honeybee hives as a way to help pollinate crops.  But that can be expensive, and farmers face the risk of losing their honeybees to colony collapse.

Mallinger has done research in apple orchards, where she documented wild-bee-pollinated trees doing as well as those pollinated with honey bees.  She says wild bees especially thrive in a diversified landscape.

“Throughout much of the state, I’ve found that the wild bees are sufficient and farmers don’t need to bring in honeybees. Honeybees are likely necessary for really large operations, and for farms that are in areas that are just really dominated by agriculture.”

Other researchers at UW Madison are looking into how cranberry growers can rely more on wild bees. 

Mallinger says native bees face some of the same challenges that honey bees do…like pesticide exposure and lack of nutritious flower sources.  They are also vulnerable to habitat loss due to changes in the landscape. 

Rachel Mallinger is giving a presentation on native bees at the Kemp Natural Resources Station in Woodruff, Monday at 7 pm. 

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