With European honey bees dying off, farmers are rightfully worrying about the pollination of their fields. Might the native American bumble bee serve as a suitable replacement? A recent shows that native bumble bee species have consistently high pollination and seed production levels in red clover. Could they be as successful with farm crops? Red clover, which is grown as forage for animals and as a rotation crop to improve soil, is raised for seed in western Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It will not produce seed without pollination, so growers typically place two to five European honey bee hives in each field. However, bee diseases, mites, and colony collapse disorder have struck these farmers too. Worldwide, there are over 200 species of bumble bees, some of whom are known to pollinate red clover.
It’s not known whether or not these native bees can be induced to pollinate other types of crops, but that’s the next step in their research.