Honey bees are more effective at pollinating almonds when other species of bees are present, says an international research team in ground-breaking research just published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. The research, which took place in California’s almond orchards in Yolo, Colusa and Stanislaus counties, could prove invaluable in increasing the pollination effectiveness of honey bees, as demand for their pollination service grows.

When blue orchard bees and wild bees are foraging in almonds with honey bees, the behavior of honey bees changes, resulting in more effective crop pollination, said lead author Claire Brittain, a former post-doctoral fellow from Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany and now associated with the Neal Williams lab at the University of California, Davis. Wild bees include non-managed bees such as bumble bees, carpenter bees and sweat bees.

“These findings highlight the importance of conserving pollinators and the natural habitats they rely on,” Brittain said. “Not only can they play an important direct role in crop pollination, but we also show that they can improve the pollination service of honey bees in almonds.”

Agroecologist Alexandra-Maria Klein, a professor at Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany, served as the project lead while a postdoctoral fellow in the UC Berkeley lab of conservation biologist/professor Claire Kremen.  Klein and Kremen initiated the project in 2008 and continued working on the project together in 2009 and 2010.

The research, “Synergistic Effects of Non-Apis Bees and Honey Bees for Pollination Services,” appears in the Jan. 9th edition. California’s almond acreage now totals 800,000s, and each acre requires two bee hives for pollination. Honey bee-health problems have sparked new concern over pollination services.

Klein, Kremen and pollination ecologist Neal Williams, assistant professor of entomology at UC Davis, co-authored the research, which encompasses 2008-2010 data.

“In orchards with non-Apis (non-honey bees), the foraging behavior of honey bees changed and the pollination effectiveness of a single honey bee visit was greater than in orchards where non-Apis bees were absent,” the researchers wrote in their abstract.