Global research team uncover new insights into wild pollinators

19 June 2015

Pollination & apiculture scientist Dr Brad Howlett from New Zealand’s Plant & Food Research and an international team of 58 fellow researchers have recently discovered new insights into the value of wild pollinators to crop production.

The study, one of the largest on bee pollination to date, was published in the prestigious nature communications, and examined data from 90 studies and nearly 1400 crop fields across 5 continents. The findings show that the economic impact of wild pollinators is significant, contributing around $3,000 per hectare.

About two-thirds of the world’s most important crops benefit from bee pollination. Yet surprisingly few bee species are responsible for pollinating the world’s crops. The study suggests just 2%, or 785 of the roughly 20,000 known bee species, pollinate up to 80% of the bee-pollinated crops worldwide.

“Understanding wild pollination is increasingly important, particularly with the threats faced by honey bee colonies” says Dr Howlett.

“What we’ve found gives a strong economic case for conserving wild bees, with the value of wild bees shown to be similar to that of managed hives”.

In addition to quantifying the economic benefit of wild bees, the research team also examined the role of bee biodiversity.

While most of the pollination work is done by a small number of common species, researchers say conservation efforts should be aimed at a wide number of species in order to maintain biodiversity and ensure future food security.

While dominant crop pollinators appear to be resilient and easily enhanced by simple conservation measures, cost-effective management strategies are encouraged to promote threatened bee species.

Dr Howlett says a key goal of current and future pollination research in New Zealand is to develop strategies that  boost pollinator biodiversity across land uses; doing so is expected to result in increased economic returns to crop growers as well as enhance New Zealand’s biological heritage. 

Emma Timewell
Communications Manager, Corporate Communications,
Plant & Food Research Mt Albert,
120 Mt Albert Road, Sandringham
Auckland, 1025, New Zealand
Telephone: +64-9-925 8692
Mobile: +64-21-2429 365

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