News / Science & Technology

Native Bees May Help Save Crops

Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Deborah Block

In June, U.S. President Barack Obama called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees and other pollinators that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease, pesticides and farming.

Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Before that can happen, though, scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, said biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees.

To most of us, a bee is just a bee, but not to Droege.

 “They’re beautiful to look at under a microscope,” he said at his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, between Washington and Baltimore.

Pioneering research

Four years ago, Droege began his pilot project surveying native bees for the U.S. government’s Geological Survey. He sorts them in pizza boxes, which he uses for storage. He says scientists know a lot about honeybees -- which produce honey and pollinate a third of U.S. crops - but very little about wild bees, which pollinate 75 percent of wild plants.

“They don’t produce honey. They don’t have a barbed sting. They’re not aggressive. Some like sandy soils, some like thick grass; some are only nesting in woods,” said Droege.

If the honeybee population continues to decline, Droege said wild bees have a better chance of survival because they are solitary.

“One of the reasons they’re more robust than honeybees is that they nest individually. One female makes one nest at a time. At the end of the year, the female dies and the whole system restarts so you don’t accumulate as many diseases,” he said.

Building inventory

Droege said his survey is only the first step in a long process to learn about wild bees. He said once scientists have an inventory, they can study their habits and use them to pollinate crops. He estimates there are 4,000 types of native bees in North America - 400 yet to be named.

“They haven’t been scientifically described. We might know that they’re different or they’re a new kind of species,” he said.

Most of Droege’s inventory comes from 20 U.S. forest sites across the country. He also travels to find bees, and doesn’t have to go far to discover some just outside the building housing his laboratory.

“I have no idea what I’m going to find each time. In just this region alone, there’s over 400 different species,” said Droege.

Gentle insects

He said the insects - some as tiny as a grain of rice - are on the ground, but people don’t notice them.  

“Most people have no idea that their lawns are nothing but grass interspersed with bee nests," said Droege.

Since some bee species look remarkably similar, Droege examines each one through a microscope and documents them with high-resolution photos.

“And the differences are real subtle, slightly different sizes and shapes, a little bit more color here than there, differences in the hair patterns,” he said.

Droege says his survey will show whether some species of wild bees are declining or flourishing.  He says that so far, scientists don’t know the answer, but he thinks most are doing just fine.

 

 

 

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost-Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Sandy Rowley from: Reno, Nv
August 22, 2014 1:17 PM
I have noticed that we do not have as many native pollinators in Reno. I have also seen dead bees of all kind, on side walks, around swimming pools and parks. There are some home owners that have lots of bees, while the rest have noticed a sharp decline in the amount of bees, dragonfly and other pollinating insects in their yards.

I hope this research helps to save our wild pollinators and is not to gather data for pesticide and big ag companies looking to abuse these beautiful insects like they have done to our honey bee.
In Response

by: Sam Droege from: Beltsville
August 22, 2014 3:54 PM
Sandy, could be lots of reasons for declines in Reno...pest control chemicals can have impacts. Best strategy for native bees is to plant native plants...decreasing watering needs and maintaining native bee populations right in town.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More