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Earlier this year, Walmart filed a patent application for drones that are designed to pollinate crops by carrying pollen from one plant to another, detecting flower locations with sensors and cameras. More recently, there has been a surge in news articles analyzing the concept of “robobees,” which is also being researched in labs around the world, from Harvard to Russia’s Tomsk Polytechnic University. Although several organizations are exploring this concept as a way to address the alarming decline in honey-bee populations, it seems highly unlikely that robotic pollinators could actually provide a solution.

First, in crop plants alone there are myriad varieties of flower shapes, sizes, and arrangements. For a sense of this diversity, just think of squash flowers, sunflowers, apple blossoms, and tomato flowers. Bees have coevolved with plants to collect and transport pollen efficiently. How many different types of drones would one farmer need? We are a very long way from having technology that will accomplish the task that bees already perform.

And the problem is more complex than just crops. At least 85 percent of all terrestrial plant species either require or strongly benefit from some form of animal pollination, and the idea of robotic pollinators ignores the many wild plants in meadows, prairies, hedgerows, and forests. Focusing solely on crop pollination and failing to take the pollination of native plants into account may well lead to a deterioration in the plant communities that make up the very fabric of our environment.

Read the full article here: Can Robobees Solve the Pollination Crisis? — The Xerces Society