Honey bees worldwide continue to suffer from pesticides and colony collapse disorder, and biologists and economists worry that declines in honey bee populations endanger the global food system.
However, recent studies point out that native bees and other insects actually pollinate many of the world's crops, not honey bees. Habitat loss, pesticides, new diseases and competition with invasive species, including European honey bees, threaten native bees and other pollinators.
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Are people worrying about the wrong bees?
Flowers pollinated by native insects developed into fruits and grains, a process known as fruit set, at twice the rate of crop flowers visited by honey bees, according to a study published in Science earlier this year. Fruit set increased after native insect pollination in all 41 crops studied, whereas only 14 percent increased fruit set after honey bee visitation.
PLOS ONE recently published research on how pesticides spread from crops to local wildflowers. The research also noted that, although farmers pay beekeepers for pollination of their crops, many of the hired honey bees were actually wandering off into the weeds and wildflowers to collect pollen. Only almonds and apples received significant attention from the bees.