Wild bees do $1.5 billion-worth of pollinating for six crops alone.

Science News looks beyond the domesticated honeybee for unsung pollination heroes: the bumblebees, mason bees, carpenter bees and other native bees that do an enormous amount of crop support, measured in dollars and cents:

Now an analysis of seven crops across North America shows that wild bees can play a role in crop pollination too, even on conventional farms abuzz with managed honeybees. Wild volunteers add at least $1.5 billion in total to yields for six of the crops, a new study estimates.

“To me, the big surprise was that we found so many wild bees even in intense production areas where much of the produce in the USA is grown,” says coauthor Rachael Winfree, a pollination ecologist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

That means threats to wild bees could shave profits even when farms stock honeybees, the researchers report July 29 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Wild bees don’t seem to help California’s almond orchards. But based on orchards in Michigan and Pennsylvania, some $1.06 billion of apples depends on native pollinators, the researchers say. Watermelons, particularly in Florida, get an estimated $146 million benefit, and sweet cherries $145 million. Native bees also boost tart cherries and blueberries and dominate pumpkins.

You can read the Royal Society findings and methodology here.