Wild Bees of New York

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By Bryan Danforth

Pollination is a valuable service provided by both managed bees (primarily honey bees, Apis mellifera) and wild, native bees. Bee pollination is essential for the production of fruits, nuts, vegetables, spices, stimulants (such as coffee), and edible oils (such as sunflower and canola). Estimates of the economic contribution of pollination vary widely, but two recent studies give us a sense of the magnitude of the contribution pollinators make to the global and national economy. Gallai et al. (2009) estimated that the contribution of pollination to the global economy was approximately $170 billion annually, and Calderone (2012), based on data for the US alone, estimated that pollination contributes over $15 billion/year to the US economy. In New York, important pollinator-dependent crops include apple ($250 million/year), squash and pumpkin ($74 million/year), tomatoes ($47 million/year), strawberries ($7 million/year), cherries ($3 million/year), and pears ($2.5 million/year) (economic data from New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets; www.agriculture.ny.gov). Many of New York’s most high value fruits are entirely dependent on pollinators for successful production.

Based on our research on apples over the past seven years, there is a surprisingly diverse fauna of wild bees that contribute to apple pollination in NY. We have documented over 110 wild bee species visiting apple blossoms in surveys of NY apple orchards from Lake Ontario to the Hudson Valley (Russo et al. 2015). We have shown that wild bees are numerically abundant across orchard varying in size and management (Russo et al. 2015), that wild bees are highly effective pollinators on a per-visit basis (Park et al. 2015), and that wild bee diversity and abundance are correlated with apple fruit and seed set (Blitzer et al., in prep.). Apples are not the only crop that benefits from wild pollinators. Strawberries, pears, cherries, tomatoes and cucurbit crops are benefitting from a diverse wild pollinator fauna as well.

In April, 2015, Governor Cuomo announced that New York State will establish a taskforce to develop a Pollinator Protection Plan to promote the health and stability of pollinator populations in New York State. A first step toward developing a comprehensive Pollinator Protection Plan is to accurately document the diversity of wild bees in New York. To that end, we have been developing a complete list of New York’s wild bees. Our goal is to accurately document what species occur in New York, which bee species are native and which non-native, and as much information about the natural history, nesting biology, floral preferences, social behaviors as possible. This is essential baseline data for developing a comprehensive Pollinator Protection Plan for NY.

We assembled our list of New York bee species using the American Museum of Natural History’s “Arthropod Easy Capture” database (Schuh et al. 2010, Schuh 2012). These data were originally gathered as part of an NSF-funded research grant to John Ascher, Jerome Rozen, Jr., and Douglas Yanega entitled “Collaborative Databasing of North American Bee Collections within a global informatics network.” Specimen records come from major eastern North American insect collections, including American Museum of Natural History, Cornell University, University of Connecticut, and Rutgers University. We supplemented the list with regional (e.g., Giles & Ascher 2006, Matteson et al. 2008, Feteridge et al. 2008, Ascher et al. 2014) and crop-based (e.g., Gardner & Ascher 2006, Russo et al. 2015) surveys of bee diversity in New York. Note that this is likely an incomplete list of New York bees because no state survey has ever been conducted on the wild bees of New York State.


  • Ascher, J.S., S. Kornbluth, and R.G. Goelet (2014). Bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Anthophila) of Gardiners Island, Suffolk County, New York. Northeastern Naturalist 21(1): 47-71.
  • Blitzer, E.J., J. Gibbs, M.G. Park, B.N. Danforth (2015). Pollination services for apple depend on functionally diverse wild bee communities. Agriculture, Ecosystems and the Environment [in press]
  • Calderone, N.W. (2012). Insect pollinated crops, insect pollinators and US agriculture: trend analysis of aggregate data for the period 1992–2009. PLoS One 7, e37235.
  • Feteridge, E.D., J.S. Ascher, G.A. Langellotto (2008). The bee fauna of residential gardens in a suburb of New York City (Hymenoptera: Apoidea). Annals the Entomological Society of America 101(6): 1067-1077
  • Gallai, N., J.-M. Salles, J. Settele, and B.E. Vaissière (2009). Economic valuation of the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted with pollinator decline. Ecological Economics 68: 810-821.
  • Gardner, K.E. and J.S. Ascher (2006). Notes on the native bee pollinators in New York apple orchards. Journal of the New York Entomological Society 114(1): 86-91.
  • Giles, V., and J.S. Ascher (2006). A survey of the bees of the Black Rock Forest Preserve, New York. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 15: 208-231.
  • Matteson, K.C., J.S. Ascher, and G.A. Langellotto (2008). Bee richness and abundance in New York city urban gardens. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 101: 140-150.
  • Park, M.G., R.A. Raguso, J.E. Losey, B.N. Danforth (2015). Per-visit pollinator performance and regional importance of wild Bombus and Andrena (Melandrena) compared to the managed honey bee in New York apple orchards. Apidologie [published online 25 August 2015, 10.1007/s13592-015-0383-9]
  • Russo, L., M.G. Park, J. Gibbs, B.N. Danforth (2015). The challenge of accurately documenting bee species richness in agroecosystems: bee diversity in eastern apple orchards. Ecology and Evolution 5(17): 3531-3540.
  • Schuh, R.T. (2012). Integrating specimen databases and revisionary systematics. Zookeys 209: 255-267.
  • Schuh, R.T., S. Hewson-Smith, and J.S. Ascher (2010). Specimen databases: a case study in entomology using web-based software. American Entomologist 56(4): 206-216.