Honey bees are considered valuable because, unlike most native species, they can be moved from farm to farm. For example, honey bees are critical in pollinating California almond fields in February when there are no native bees around, Danforth said.

However, the mobility of the honey bee has exposed it to a wide variety of pathogens and stresses, which likely contribute to colony collapse disorder, he said.

There are more than 20,000 bee species in the world, including roughly 450 in New York state, Danforth said. The species in New York can help pick up the slack of the declining honey bee, which is not native to North America. In fact, native bees may have been doing a lot of pollinating work all along but not getting credit for it, Danforth said.

"In the past, the attitude has always been, 'Well, you have the crop, and you have the honey bee, and that's all you really need.' But nobody has ever bothered to ask, well what about all these other bees that are out there?" Danforth said. "The role of native bees in crop pollination has been largely unappreciated — until colony collapse disorder created a crisis."