Project Details


Bee pollination is a critical input to the production of most of the world?s food crops. In North America, the managed honey bee (Apis mellifera) provides much of this pollination and is considered to be the primary crop pollinator. Reliance on a single pollinator species is a risky strategy, however, because honey bee health problems and shortages could make pollination unreliable, leading to reductions in the food supply and/or higher food prices. Domesticated honey bee stocks have declined by 59% in the USA over the past 58 years, and feral colonies are rare, due to infestation by parasitic mites and other causes. Atop already reduced numbers of managed colonies, North American bee-keepers lost roughly a third of their honey bee colonies in 2007 and 2008, in part due to the newly recognized and poorly understood Colony Collapse Disorder. This has further highlighted the risk of relying solely on honey bee colonies to provide the nation?s agricultural pollination. There are 4000 species of non-Apis bees native to North America, and in some agricultural contexts native species can provide significant crop pollination. At present there is limited scientific knowledge, however, about the extent of native bee pollination of crops and the environmental circustances in which it occurs. We propose a comparative study of bee pollination in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and California to investigate three research questions. First, we will test the hypothesis that pollination by native bees is as reliable and as stable over time as pollination by honey bees. This is a critical and virtually uninvestigated question that must be understood before native pollinators can be integrated into the national crop pollination system. Second, we will investigate the importance of farm-scale factors, independent of landscape-scale factors, in determining levels of native bee pollination. Farmers can make changes primarily at the farm scale, but the determinants of native bee pollination levels have rarely been investigated at this scale. Third, we will ask whether more diverse pollinator communities provide more stable pollination services, and if so, what are the causal mechanisms. Here we address several fundamental hypotheses about the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem services generally, using crop pollination as a model system. Our results, if consistent across widely different agricultural systems, will have strong generality. If results differ across systems, we will draw conclusions about how native bee pollination functions in particular types of agricultural systems (e.g., intensively managed versus not). We will communicate our results through the scientific literatures, and through extension and outreach programs, as detailed in Methods.
Effective start/end date8/15/148/14/17


  • National Institute of Food and Agriculture (National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA))


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