Honey bees are heaped with positive buzz for their pollinating efforts - but researchers have just found there are plenty of other insects that deserve just as much praise.

A new study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has shown how insects like flies, beetles, butterflies, moths - and even wasps - are just as important in pollinating flowers, a service vital for crop production.

Scientists from New Zealand's Plant and Food Research assisted researchers from 18 countries in analysing honey bee, other bee and non-bee insect visits to 480 fields of 17 different crop types on five continents.

They found that total pollination services provided - based on visitation frequency and pollen deposition per visit - was the same for honey bees and non-bee insects (38 per cent), with around a quarter of services (23 per cent) provided by other bees.


Further, fruit and seed set of crops was enhanced by increased visitation by non-bees and other bees, but not honey bees.

Dr Brad Howlett, of Plant and Food Research, said the while other insects carried less pollen than honey bees, they tended to visit flowers more frequently, which balanced out the equation.

"The non-bee insects are also seen to be more adaptable to changes in environment and landscape than bees, so are even more important as pollinators in some situations where land use is changing," he said.

"It's vital that when we consider pollination services for our commercial crops we don't forget about these other insects as effective pollinators."

University of Queensland plant ecologist Dr Margie Mayfield told Phys.org that scientists hadn't yet broadly explored the role of non-bee insects in crop pollination.

"The global reliance on honeybees for pollination is a risky strategy given the threats to the health of managed honeybee populations due to pests and diseases such as Varroa mites and colony collapse disorder," she said.

"Non-bee insects are an insurance against bee population declines. We are trying to get the message out there to use scientific findings such as these to promote a change in agricultural practices."

Researchers have meanwhile been trying to pin down what has been driving unexplained bee colony losses, something only anecdotal evidence has blamed on diseases, pests, pesticides and starvation.


This year, Kiwi scientists joined a new project between Australia's national science agency CSIRO and tech giant Intel, fitting tens of thousands of bees across the globe with tiny electronic tags that would provide new clues around what is driving the losses.