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The Buzz on Alternative Pollinators

 

Select colleges and universities across the nation are currently participating in a coordinated research effort called the Integrated Crop Pollination Project in hopes of finding an alternative to the dying honey bees. This five-year study is funded by national grants and aims to gain a better understanding of how to most efficiently utilize the power of pollinators for sustainable crop production. Experts are hoping to discover more reliable and sustainable ways to pollinate the crops that much of the world depends on for food.

One alternative pollinator that these experts are particularly interested in is the Osmia species. There are many different types of Osmia, such as the Osmia lignaria, commonly known as the blue orchard bee, and the Osmia cornifrons, known as the Japanese orchard bee. These bees are used all over the world for crop pollination, and because they do not live in social colonies, they rarely sting.

Research has shown that Osmia bees are also significantly more efficient pollinators than honey bees. A Japanese study showed that when set in an apple orchard, a honey bee will pollinate around 50 apple blossoms in a day. Set in the same conditions, an Osmia bee will visit 50 times that number at around 2,500 blossoms each day. This is because unlike honey bees, Osmia bees stay concentrated within the orchard, and therefore also do not bring in outside pesticides. They carry pollen on their entire body and are able to pollinate flowers more completely than honey bees.

While researchers are still studying this species, they believe that alternative pollinators such as the Osmia are the future of crop production. By making an effort to preserve wild populations of Osmia bees, fruit crop producers can diversify their source of pollinators and ensure that their crops will be available for consumers, even if the honey bee population continues its decline.

Further Reading:

http://www.growingmagazine.com/article-9585.aspx

http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/mason_bees.shtml