Honey Bees were brought from Europe to North America in the 1600’s and quickly became the most important food pollinators, responsible for the pollination of over 70% of the world’s most widely consumed crops, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
Native Bees, like bumble bees, are thought by some to be better pollinators than honey bees because they spend less time at each flower they visit and are able to pollinate more blossoms in less time. They also mainly gather pollen, as opposed to the honey bee, which tends to be searching for nectar sources.
One of the greatest values honey bees have over native bees is their mobility. Unlike Native bees, honey bees can be moved from farm to farm. Honey bees are absolutely critical in pollinating almonds and avocados as well as many other major U.S food crops.
However, it is thought that that this transfer of the honey bee from place to place has weakened it to be susceptible to stresses and diseases, which is leading to dramatic honey bee die-offs. In the past year beekeepers have reported 44% colony losses. This crisis could lead to an uncertain future, as a world without bees would be devastating to our food system.
Interactions between native bees and honey bees are rare, but do occur. Studies have shown that Native bees are more “polite” and are not likely to stop at a flower a honey bee is on, but honey bees don’t seem to mind as much if a Native pollinator is on a flower they’d like to land on. Although there may be some instances of interference and exploitative competition between Native Bees and honey bees, it is not enough to show conclusive evidence that one affects the other adversely.
Veteran Beekeepers have observed that having a combination of honey bees AND native bees in their gardens can provide a 15% or greater yield than if you just had one or the other.