Pollinators: Variety is the spice of life

FARMERS often use hives full of honeybees to help pollinate crops. A new study published in Science has found that encouraging wild pollinators could be more effective.
Fifty researchers led by Lucas Garibaldi of the Universidad Nacional de Río Negro in Argentina studied the comings and goings of wild pollinators and managed colonies of bees on 41 different crops, ranging from coffee to grapefruit, almonds, cherries and kiwi fruit, in 19 countries around the world. They found that pollination by wild insects, such as bees, beetles, flies and butterflies, resulted in a much higher proportion of flowers forming seeds or fruits.
An increase in visits by wild insects can boost the amount of fruit that starts to grow by twice as much as an equivalent increase in visits by managed honeybees, the study shows. This means farmers might get better yields, the researchers argue, by restoring or conserving natural areas within fields to encourage wild pollinators rather than relying on honeybees alone.
It is the greater variety of shapes of wild insects mingling in the flowers that spreads pollen more efficiently, says Dr Garibaldi. Wild insects also switch more among plants and varieties, thus cross-pollinating them. Crops, like some people, like it wild, varied and often.


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