The worldwide importance of honey bees as pollinators in natural habitats

The western honey bee (Apis mellifera) is the most frequent floral visitor of crops worldwide, but quantitative knowledge of its role as a pollinator outside of managed habitats is largely lacking. Here we use a global dataset of 80 published plant–pollinator interaction networks as well as pollinator effectiveness measures from 34 plant species to assess the importance of A. mellifera in natural habitats. Apis mellifera is the most frequent floral visitor in natural habitats worldwide, averaging 13% of floral visits across all networks (range 0–85%), with 5% of plant species recorded as being exclusively visited by A. mellifera. For 33% of the networks and 49% of plant species, however, A. mellifera visitation was never observed, illustrating that many flowering plant taxa and assemblages remain dependent on non-A. mellifera visitors for pollination. Apis melliferavisitation was higher in warmer, less variable climates and on mainland rather than island sites, but did not differ between its native and introduced ranges. With respect to single-visit pollination effectiveness, A. mellifera did not differ from the average non-A. mellifera floral visitor, though it was generally less effective than the most effective non-A. mellifera visitor. Our results argue for a deeper understanding of how A. mellifera, and potential future changes in its range and abundance, shape the ecology, evolution, and conservation of plants, pollinators, and their interactions in natural habitats.