Dec 1, 2015 by Natali Anderson
According to a large multinational team of scientists led by University of New England researcher Dr Romina Rader, non-bee insects – flies, beetles, moths, butterflies, wasps, and ants – are efficient pollinators providing 39 percent of visits to crop flowers.
“Non-bee insects are an insurance against bee population declines,” said team member Dr Margie Mayfield, of the University of Queensland.
“We are trying to get the message out there to use scientific findings such as these to promote a change in agricultural practices.”
Dr Rader, Dr Mayfield and their colleagues analyzed data from 480 fields for 17 crops examined in 39 studies on five continents.
They discovered that non-bee insects performed around 39% of the total number of flower visits.
“Although non-bees were less effective pollinators than bees per flower visit, they provided slightly more visits,” Dr Rader explained.
“These two factors compensated for each other, resulting in pollination services similar to bees.”
She added: “non-bee insect pollinators had other advantages. Fruit set in crops increased with non-bee insect visits, independently of bee visitation rates, indicating that non-bee insects provide a unique benefit not provided by bees.”
“We also found that non-bee pollinators were less sensitive to habitat fragmentation than bees.”
The findings were published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“A shift in perspective from a bee-only focus is needed for assessments of crop pollinator biodiversity and the economic value of pollination,” the scientists said.
“These studies should also consider the services provided by other types of insects – important pollinators that are currently overlooked.”
Romina Rader et al. Non-bee insects are important contributors to global crop pollination. PNAS, published online November 30, 2015; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1517092112