Honeybees may get all the buzz, but a new study by the University of California Berkeley reveals that native bee species are an undervalued asset worth up to $2.4 billion to California farmers.
Rather than relying on wild bees to pollinate their crops, many farmers currently lease European honeybees to do the job. The assumption is that wild pollinators are simply unreliable.
And the stakes are high. The Berkeley researchers report that pollinator-dependent crops account for roughly one-third of California’s agriculture—a net value of $11.7 billion per year.
But the scientists say honeybees are getting way too much credit. Their study, published this week in the journal Rangelands, found that wild bees residing on ranchlands and other such habitats quietly provide 39 percent of pollinator “services” to California crops, especially melons, almonds, and sunflowers.
“This means that preserving rangelands has significant economic value,” said lead author Clair Kremen in a statement, “not only to the ranchers who graze their cattle there, but also to farmers who need the pollinators.”
Kremen and her colleagues make the recommendation that farmers might diversify their pollinator schemes—like developing a stock portfolio to ensure a comfortable retirement—say by continuing to rent some honeybees, but also paying ranchers to stay on the land and maintain wild bee habitats.
Following the scientists’ advice might keep some farmers from getting stung.