Native Bees Yield Hardier Flowers Than Honey Bees, Research Finds

A California carpenter bee alights on a Cleveland sage.

A California carpenter bee alights on a Cleveland sage. Dillon Travis

Flowers pollinated by native bees produce fitter offspring than flowers pollinated by honey bees, according to a new study carried out in San Diego, California.

Compared with native bees, honey bees visit twice as many flowers on each plant before moving on to the next plant, with the result that honey bees tend to deposit pollen on the same plant they gathered it from, while native bees spread their pollen to other plants. When pollinated by native bees, plants produce more diverse offspring.

Examining the seeds of plants pollinated by honey bees and those pollinated by native bees, scientists said the latter were two to five times fitter, as judged by how likely they were to germinate, grow, and reproduce. Their findings were published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Honey bees were brought from Europe to the Americas in the 17th century, and while celebrated for their role as pollinators, experts say they pose a threat to native bees, with whom they compete for pollen and nectar.

“Many conservation efforts are focused on saving the honey bee, but they are not in any danger of going extinct,” the study’s lead author Dillon Travis said in a statement. “In fact, their numbers have been increasing. The organisms that do need our help are the native plants and bees.”


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