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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Sep 12;103(37):13890-5. Epub 2006 Aug 29.

Wild bees enhance honey bees' pollination of hybrid sunflower.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA. sgreenleaf@ucdavis.edu


Pollinators are required for producing 15-30% of the human food supply, and farmers rely on managed honey bees throughout the world to provide these services. Yet honey bees are not always the most efficient pollinators of all crops and are declining in various parts of the world. Crop pollination shortages are becoming increasingly common. We found that behavioral interactions between wild and honey bees increase the pollination efficiency of honey bees on hybrid sunflower up to 5-fold, effectively doubling honey bee pollination services on the average field. These indirect contributions caused by interspecific interactions between wild and honey bees were more than five times more important than the contributions wild bees make to sunflower pollination directly. Both proximity to natural habitat and crop planting practices were significantly correlated with pollination services provided directly and indirectly by wild bees. Our results suggest that conserving wild habitat at the landscape scale and altering selected farm management techniques could increase hybrid sunflower production. These findings also demonstrate the economic importance of interspecific interactions for ecosystem services and suggest that protecting wild bee populations can help buffer the human food supply from honey bee shortages.

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