In addition to providing tools for monitoring wild bee populations in apple orchards, the NEPP seeks to educate orchardists, backyard naturalists and the public about these economically and ecologically important wild pollinators.  Who are they? How do they thrive? How can we help?

Many Kinds of Bees

Since 2008 we have learned a great deal about the biology, diversity and ecology of the wild bees that contribute to NYS apple production. The 120 identified species of bees visiting apple blossoms in New York represent one quarter of the approximately 415 species of bees that occur in New York. In terms of nesting biology, the apple bee fauna is dominated by ground-nesting bees (67% of the species), below-ground: cavity-nesting bees (11% of the species), stem-nesting species (10%) and a small number of wood nesters (carpenter bees).  By the way, the social honey bee is just one of the 120 species.

Solitary Bees and Social Bees

In terms of social behavior, the apple bee fauna is dominated by solitary bees. Bees are termed solitary when each female constructs her own nest, gathers and stores her own pollen/nectar provisions, and guards her own nest against parasites and predators. She is highly dependent on the proximity of nesting substrates and floral resources. Also, solitary bees tend to be active for a relatively short period of time, whereas social bees persist throughout the spring, summer and fall. Therefore, Spring solitary bees tend to be more highly specialized (and dependent) on early spring flowering trees (such as apple) than their social relatives, potentially making them more effective pollinators.

Attracting Native Bees

So, what does this mean for apple growers who want to maintain a healthy local, wild bee fauna? First, apple growers should provide a diversity of nesting materials for wild bees in and around their orchards. Ground nesters being the most abundant species in apple orchards will benefit from the availability of disturbed, loose soil (‘bee beds’). We recommend tilling a small area along the edge of the orchard to a depth of 10-12 inches in order to provide loose soil for ground-nesting bees. Carpenter bees can benefit from fallen trees, and weathered lumber in and around the orchard. Bumblebees will likely benefit from stone walls, mammal burrows, and brush piles. Stem-nesters, such as mason bees utilize hollow plant stems & branches as well as wooden blocks and cardboard tubes of the right diameter which can be purchased commercially.

Learn More

For more information about the diversity of wild bees in NY apple orchards, see our published guide “Wild Pollinators of Eastern Apple Orchards” available at http://entomology.cals.cornell.edu/extension/wild-pollinators.