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Tiny Number of Bees Do Most of the Crop Pollination

Just 2 percent of wild bee species do almost 80 percent of their work in pollinating crops, according to a new study.
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Just 2 percent of wild bee species do almost 80 percent of their work in pollinating crops, according to a study published Tuesday that outlined simple measures for farmers to attract star insects to safeguard food production. The report, based on 90 studies in five continents, said governments should also conserve the apparently less valuable bees as they might play a bigger role in the event of environmental shocks, such as from climate change. Many types of wild bees, which count 22,000 species worldwide, are in decline because of factors such as pesticides and habitat loss, raising uncertainty about how best to protect insects vital to human food production.

Lead author David Kleijn, of Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands, said bees were like soccer players. "There are a few who really make a lot of money, like (Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Lionel) Messi, then another large group who can make a living from football. And then there's 99.9 percent who just play for fun," he told Reuters.

The study in the journal Nature Communications said just 2 percent of species, usually the most common such as bumblebees or solitary bees, did almost 80 percent of the work by wild bees in pollinating crops such as potatoes, beans or apples. The report, examining wild bees rather than managed honey bees kept in hives, said farmers could easily attract the best wild insect pollinators by planting wild flowers or strips of grass alongside their crops.

Related: More Than 40 Percent of Bee Hives Died in Past Year: Study

The study estimated that wild bees' work contributed more than $3,000 per hectare (2.5 acres) in helping to produce crops, comparable to the economic value of managed honey bees. The most industrious wild species was the North American bumble bee, with work worth $963 a hectare, it said.

Related: To Protect Honeybees, EPA Seeks New Restrictions on Pesticide Use