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The return of the native

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Thank you for the timely and informative article on the role of native bees in pollination (HCN, 6/11/07). It is important for farmers, gardeners and the general public to learn about how the 4,000 species of bees native to North America play a crucial part in the pollination of food crops. It was interesting to note that blue orchard bees have such increased rates of pollination efficiency compared to honeybees. Few people know that native bees can effectively increase pollination of crops like almonds, apples, raspberries, melons and squash, among others, by up to 90 percent. It may also surprise some that a number of crops rely exclusively on native pollinators to set fruit. Besides their affinity for fair weather, honeybees lack the flight muscles for accomplishing "buzz pollination," a method of sonically discharging pollen required by crops like blueberries, peppers, and tomatoes. A variety of other specific plant-pollinator interactions have been documented, revealing that flowering plants and their insect pollinators have a long history of co-evolution.

So much remains to be learned about the contributions of wild bees. And in the face of continuing habitat loss, agriculture is in a position to lose what it does not even know it has. The Wild Farm Alliance recently published a briefing paper called Wild Pollina-tors: Agriculture's Forgotten Partners. Available on their Web site, www.wildfarmalliance.org, this informative piece suggests ways of encouraging native pollinators, chronicles stories of farmers who have successfully done so, and features a list of crops that benefit from native bees. The lessons we are learning from pollinators underscore society's need for the wild. Let's hope that knowledge inspires us to change the way we grow our food and care for our ecosystems.

Joanna Johnson
Wild Farm Alliance
Watsonville, California

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