Orchard pollination in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, USA. Honey bees or native bees?
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Capitol Reef National Park in central Utah, USA surrounds 22 managed fruit orchards started over a century ago by Mormon pioneers. Honey bees are imported for pollination, although the area in which the Park is embedded has over 700 species of native bees, many of which are potential orchard pollinators. We studied the visitation of native bees to apple, pear, apricot, and sweet cherry over 2 years. Thirty species of bees visited the flowers but, except for pear flowers, most were uncommon compared to honey bees. Evidence that honey bees prevented native bees from foraging on orchard crop flowers was equivocal: generally, honey bee and native bee visitation rates to the flowers were not negatively correlated, nor were native bee visitation rates positively correlated with distance of orchards from honey bee hives. Conversely, competition was tentatively suggested by much larger numbers of honey bees than natives on the flowers of apples, apricots and cherry; and by the large increase of native bees on pears, where honey bee numbers were low. At least one-third of the native bee species visiting the flowers are potential pollinators, including cavity-nesting species such as Osmia lignaria propinqua, currently managed for small orchard pollination in the US, plus several fossorial species, including one rosaceous flower specialist (Andrena milwaukiensis). We suggest that gradual withdrawal of honey bees from the Park would help conserve native bee populations without decreasing orchard crop productivity, and would serve as a demonstration of the commercial value of native pollinators.
KeywordsApoidea bees biodiversity competition conservation orchard crops park pollination
We received financial and logistic support from the National Park Service. Their Capitol Reef representatives, Tom and Debbie Clark, and Jeff Pace, were most supportive hosts. Tom Clark, in particular, helped at every stage of this research, including its conception. Jim Cane and a hardworking anonymous reviewer made many constructive comments. Mike Dlugos contributed to data collection in the first year of this study.
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