Can Maine’s Native Bees Be the State’s Top Pollinator?

Hunting for beesWith commercial honeybees dying off and prices for their pollinating services threatening to rise, UMaine researchers are taking a closer look at Maine’s native bees.

Blueberry growers have been wary of depending on these local pollinators. They’re hard to get a handle on. Unlike honeybees, which live in manufactured hives up to 70,000 insects deep, native bees live in small groups or alone. They burrow into the ground. They camp out in hollow trees. They may nest in the insulation right inside your house.

A team working on a grant from UMaine’s Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions is working to increase blueberry growers’ interest in and understanding of native bee conservation and use. A new tool kit helps them better understand and manage the native bees on their land

“We haven’t used wild bees systematically,” said Sam Hanes, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and the team’s leader. “People are interested. It’s a matter of trying to maximize the bees’ usefulness.”

Hanes and colleagues want to help growers big and small look at native bees with fresh eyes. Maine blueberry growers now bring in around 80,000 honeybee hives from out of state annually at about $100 a rental. The U.S. honeybee population has declined by 40 percent since 1980 due to several reasons, including a mite pathogen and Colony Collapse Disorder. See more on this story