Research shows wild pollinators make a world of difference
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A global study led by Argentina’s Universidad Nacional de Río Negro (UNRN) has found honeybees may not be the best pollinators for many crops, often trumped by wild bees and insects when it comes to the art of pollen packing. After more than a decade of researching 600 fields in 19 countries across five continents, the results were published in the journal Science. UNRN professor Lucas Garibaldi discusses the revealing findings with www.freshfruitportal.com in more detail.
Fruit, dried fruit, seeds and coffee made up the bulk of horticultural crops covered in the study which analyzed 41 different crop systems in tropical, subtropical and temperate conditions. The goal was to test the complementary value held by wild pollinators with their honeybee counterparts used in industrial farming.
“There are many different crops with different degrees of pollinator trends, and what we tried to do was go to places where there were many wild insects and compare these places against others where there were practically no wild insects,” said Garibaldi, who is also a researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET).
“We went to places where there were many honeybee hives and others where there were no hives. What we did was see how the abundance of honeybees related to the abundance and diversity of wild insects in the production of seeds and fruits.”
The conclusion was that wild insects promoted production across the 41 regions studied, while honeybees served as an aid in 6 of them.
“The honeybee is not the best pollinator for all crops,” he said.
Garibaldi said some pollinators were more efficient than others. For some, weather conditions like rain or cold temperatures had an influence on pollination, while others developed buzz pollination which is important for crops like tomatoes and blueberries. In this method, the bee latches on to the flower and vibrates to release pollen from its anthers.
“Wild [organisms] are also more efficient because they move more between different variety plants.”
The researchers found that pollination provided by wild insects could not be replaced by adding honeybee hives to fields; the latter pollinates independently and therefore serves more of a supplementary role.
There are around 20,000 bee species around the world but they are not the only pollinators. The expert explains this life-giving process is also undertaken by some flies, beetles, butterflies, bats and birds.
“While bees are the most common, there are others that can be important.”
Along with the alert the researchers have sent a warning, that the permanent loss of wild insects in many agricultural landscapes could lead to negative consequences for crops.
“When all the soil is covered, removed, insecticides are applied or the land becomes a monoculture, these habitats are lost, reducing the abundance and diversity of pollinators, and therefore the crops receive fewer flower visits.
“What may be an advantage in the production becomes a threat of harvest reduction, in addition to the risk involved in depending on just one pollinator species.”
The researchers said the integrated management of bees as agricultural inputs, in association with diverse wild insects as an ecosystem service, would improve global crop yields and guarantee the long term production of sustainable agriculture.