- The U.S. relies primarily on a single insect, the domesticated European honeybee, to pollinate one third of its food supply, including such delicious crops as apples, peaches, almonds, lettuces, broccoli, cranberries, squashes, melons and blueberries.
- As colony collapse disorder and other maladies continue to devastate honeybee populations, researchers are turning their attention to alternative pollinators—the thousands of native bee species throughout the country—and are looking for ways to make croplands more attractive to these wild bees.
- So far studies suggest that restoring wild habitat near farms to welcome and nurture native bees not only increases crop yield but also makes honeybees themselves more efficient pollinators.
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Field biologists have a strange affinity for spending countless hours in the hot sun scrutinizing tiny things. You might see a bee buzzing on a flower and think, “Oh, a bee.” A biologist, though, will want to know: Is it a nonnative, domesticated honeybee? Or is it one of 4,000 bee species native to the U.S.—maybe an ultragreen sweat bee, a metallic-sheened creature that drinks human perspiration? Or perhaps a cuckoo bee, such as Bombus suckleyi, a type of bumblebee that sports yellow hair on its fourth abdominal segment, as opposed to the rare B. occidentalis, which has black or white hair in the same spot?
You also can probably name many reasons not to sit in a field counting grains of pollen, an activity that conservation biologist Claire Kremen thinks is a perfectly reasonable way to spend an afternoon. But then, you probably will not be the one to revamp the nation's food supply and rescue our agricultural system from looming collapse. Kremen, however, just might.
This article was originally published with the title Return of the Natives.