The western or European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is the primary managed pollinator in US agricultural systems, and its importance for food production is widely recognized. However, the role of A. mellifera as an introduced species in natural areas is potentially more complicated. The impact of A. mellifera on native insect pollinators can depend on broad community context, as can the relative effectiveness of A. mellifera in pollination of both native and nonnative plant species outside of agricultural systems. Apis mellifera is highly generalist and able to interact with hundreds of native plant species following its naturalization. It is unlikely to wholly replace native pollinators as visitors of specialized plant species, and its behavioral characteristics tend to reduce A. mellifera's per-visit efficiency, even when its overall effectiveness is high. Preliminary results of our case study exploring the importance of A. mellifera vs. native bees as pollinators of native plants in Hawai‘i indicate that A. mellifera is less important than native Hylaeus bees as a flower visitor of focal native plant species. In light of current global declines in A. mellifera populations, maintenance of a diversity of pollinators and pollinator habitat are critical conservation needs in natural areas.
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Vol. 36 • No. 4