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

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month 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.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid