Of all the honey bee species, only A. mellifera has been used extensively for commercial pollination of fruit and vegetable crops.
The scale of these pollination services is commonly measured in the billions of dollars, credited with adding about 9% to the value of crops across the world.
However, despite contributing substantially to crop pollination, there is debate about the potential spillover to natural landscapes and competition between managed honey bees and many of the ~20,000 species of wild pollinators.
Species of Apis are generalist floral visitors, and pollinate many species of flowering plants, but because of their “generalized” nature, they do so inefficiently.
Without specialized adaptations for specific flowers, their ability to reach pollen and nectar is often limited. What’s more, their tendency to visit all species in a given area means that the pollen they carry for any one species is often very diluted.
As such, they can provide some pollination to many plants, especially non-native crops, but most native plants have some native pollinator that is far more effective at pollinating that species.
When honey bees are present as an invasive species in an area, they compete for flowers with native pollinators, which can actually push out the native species.
Claims of human dependency
Western honey bees are often described as being essential to all human food production, leading to claims that without their pollination, all of humanity would starve, or even die out.
Einstein is sometimes misquoted as saying If bees disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.
But not only did the scientist not say that, there is no science to support the prediction itself.
In fact, many important crops need no insect pollination at all. The ten most important crops, comprising 60% of all human food energy,all fall into this category: Plantains are sterile and propagated by cuttings, as are cassava. potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are root vegetables propagated by tubers.
Soybeans are self-pollinated. Rice, wheat, sorghum, and maize are all wind pollinated, as are most other grasses.
Similarly, no crops originating in the New World depend on the western honey bee (Apis mellifera) at all, as the insect is invasive, having been brought over with colonists in the last few centuries.
Tomatoes, peppers, squash, and all other New World crops evolved with native pollinators like squash bees, bumble bees, and other native bees. The stingless bees mentioned by Jefferson are distant relatives of the honey bees, in the genus Melipona.
List of crop plants pollinated by bees
This is a list of crop plants pollinated by bees along with how much crop yield is improved by bee pollination.
Where the same plants have non-bee pollinators such as birds or other insects like flies, these are also indicated.
Pollination by insects is called entomophily. Entomophily is a form of plant pollination whereby pollen is distributed by insects, particularly bees, Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), flies and beetles.
Honey bees pollinate many plant species that are not native to their natural habitat but are often inefficient pollinators of such plants; if they are visiting ten different species of flower, only a tenth of the pollen they carry may be the right species.
Other bees tend to favor one species at a time, therefore do most of the actual pollination.
Most staple food grains, like corn, wheat, rice, soybean and sorghum, need no insect help at all; they are wind or self-pollinated. Other staple food crops, like bananas and plantains, are propagated from cuttings, and produce fruit without pollination (parthenocarpy).
Further, foods such as root vegetables and leafy vegetables will produce a useful food crop without pollination, though pollination may be required for the purpose of seed production or breeding.