partner, to the increasingly expensive
and beleaguered honeybee pollinator.
The blue orchard bees, he says, could be
the farm’s “insurance.”
In days when honeybees face increas-
ing threats from diseases and pesticide-
intensive farming, interest is growing in
such “insurance” pollinators. The blue
orchard bees are just one example of an
alternative to honeybee pollination on
the buzzing edge of research.
Biologists are finding that free-rang-ing wild pollinators dropping by certain
farms for lunch can deliver enough pollen
to render honeybees there unnecessary.
Other pollination researchers, including Wardell, are bee-deep in devising
new ways to domesticate wild insects for
managed pollination on farms. Rearing a
new kind of six-legged worker requires
pioneering on all levels, from basic physiology to nest decoration.
But Wardell and other hard-core
optimists are getting to work. Standing
in his partly unpacked lab across from
the future tent, he points to a white-board with a list of problems he needs
to solve before blue orchard bees can
become regular farming participants.
“There’s no doubt in my mind it can be
done,” he says.
Bees in one basket
California’s almonds have good-news,
bad-news pollination. The remarkable
honeybee is able to sustain a vast industry, but that means a vast industry has
come to rest on a single insect.
While some of the world’s most impor-
tant food plants — such as corn — can
fertilize themselves, most almond
flowers can’t. And while corn also gets
delivery help from wind, the pollen of
the almond flower isn’t wind-friendly.
Thankfully, honeybees are hardly the
only pollinators on the planet. Many of
the world’s 18,000 or so types of non-honeybee bees visit crops. And creatures other than bees stop by farm fields
too, including little flying midges that
pollinate the species of Theobroma that
provides the world with chocolate. So as
concern over honeybees grows, so does
Animals wanted a recent worldwide analysis of crops showed that the absence of animal
pollinators — mostly bees, but also birds and flies — could greatly reduce the production of a
number of valuable foods. source: a.-m. klein et al/Proc. of the royal society b 2007
More than 90% 40 to 90% 10 to 40% Less than 10% No decrease
cantaloupe apple eggplant lemon chickpeas
cocoa almond coffee Papaya grapes
Pumpkin Buckwheat soybean Peanut lentils
macadamia cucumber coconut safflower olives
Watermelon mango strawberry string bean Pepper (seasoning)
Decreases in production for certain crops in the absence of animal pollinators
40 to 90%
10 to 40%
More than 90%
Less than 10%