We are often asked by apple growers (and the general public) whether wild bees are effective apple pollinators in comparison to honey bees. This is not always an easy question to answer because measuring pollinator importance requires that we quantify two things: (1) pollinator abundance and (2) per-visit effectiveness.

Measuring Pollinator Importance

Pollinator abundance is an obvious correlate of pollinator importance – bees that are more common and visit apple flowers more frequently are likely to be more important pollinators than bees that are rare or visit apple flowers infrequently. Data we collect via the app will allow us to quantify pollinator abundance at your orchard and across the region. But pollinator abundance is only part of the equation because some pollinators may be more effective on a per-visit basis than others.

Per-visit effectiveness can be defined in a variety of ways but generally refers to how many pollen grains are deposited per flower visit or how many seeds are set per flower visit. Per-visit effectiveness will depend heavily on how a pollinator interacts with the floral morphology. A pollinator that walks around on the petals of the apple flower and takes nectar will not be as effective as a pollinator that lands on the reproductive parts of the flower and collects (and deposits) pollen.

We have spent a LOT of time trying to quantify per-visit effectiveness of various kinds of bees over the past few years. Our results suggest that, on a per-visit basis, wild bees are nearly four times more effective than honey bees. This means that an apple grower needs just 1/4 as many wild bees as honey bees to have the same level of pollination services in their apple orchard.

How This Survey Will Help Growers

First hand data that each apple grower submits to our NEPP data collection app will allow us to assess the level of pollination services provided by wild bees and honey bees at each eastern apple orchard. Based on the data you collect, we can then make specific data-driven recommendations back to you on whether or not (and at what level) to rent honey bees. These data will also allow us to monitor pollinator population levels across regions of the Northeast as well as over time.

So, please take a moment to visit the project website, download the app, and become familiar with the data collection protocols we have posted there. After you watch the video and scroll through photos of wild bees and honey bees you should be ready to start collecting data. Once you are familiar with the app, each data collection event should take no more than 10 minutes. Keep in mind that we need at least three observations at each site and more observations across a range of temperatures and days would also be extremely helpful.

We look forward to working with you to assess the pollination services at your orchard.