Native Bees and Pollination: Keystone Species in the Ecosystem
Native Bees Are Nature’s Predominant Pollinators but Many Provide Crop Pollination Services, too.
According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, there are over 4,000 species of bees in the U.S. alone. Native bees are the most predominant pollinators of flowering plants in nature, thus contributing a vital service to the ecosystem. Because of this important role, bees are referred to as “keystone species”. Without native bees, many of our native plant populations would decline, impacting other organisms that are dependent on them for food and shelter.
Some native bees have names that reflect how they build nests—leafcutter bees, mason bees, mining bees, carpenter bees, digger bees, etc. Other types of bees are named for their behavior, which include bumble bees, sweat bees, and cuckoo bees. Finally there are some species of bees that are named for the types of plants they pollinate such as squash, sunflower and blueberry bees.
If honey bees are in short supply, the pollination needs of many crops can often be filled by native bees. Research has shown that native bees can be major pollinators of agricultural crops and sometimes do the job more efficiently. For instance, the southeastern blueberry bee is a major pollinator of southern highbush blueberries. Another important crop pollinator is the bumble bee, which can pollinate tomatoes, cranberries, avocadoes, and blueberries. Native squash bees are major pollinators of cultivated squashes. Some native bees are commercially managed like honey bees to provide pollination services. These include the Blue Orchard Bee and some species of bumble bees. Some recommended flower mixes specially formulated with flowers that attract many types of bees are shown below.