Wasps deserve to be valued as much as bees for their contribution to ecosystems, research indicates.
Academics said that wasps regulate populations of arthropods, like aphids and caterpillars, that damage crops.
They are also expert pollinators, visiting 960 plant species including 164 that are completely dependent on wasps for pollination, according to a study published in Biological Reviews.
“In a previous study, we found that the hatred of wasps is largely due to widespread ignorance about the role of wasps in ecosystems, and how they can be beneficial to humans.
“Wasps are understudied relative to other insects like bees, so we are only now starting to properly understand the value and importance of their ecosystem services.
“Here, we have reviewed the best evidence there is, and found that wasps could be just as valuable as other beloved insects like bees, if only we gave them more of a chance.”
Predation by insects – as biocontrol to protect crops – is worth at least 416 billion US dollars per year worldwide, according to the research.
Solitary wasp species tend to be specialists, which may be suited to managing a specific pest, while social wasps are generalist predators and may be especially useful as a local source of control for a range of crop-eating pests.
The researchers say that wasps could be used as sustainable forms of pest control in developing countries, especially tropical ones, where farmers could bring in populations of a local wasp species with minimal risk to the natural environment.
Ryan Brock, from the University of East Anglia’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “Alongside other insects, many wasp species are declining from factors such as climate change and habitat loss.
“As such, there is urgent need to address their conservation and ensure that habitats continue to benefit from the far-reaching ecosystem services that wasps provide.”
Pollination by insects is vital for agriculture, and its economic importance has been valued at greater than 250 billion US dollars per year worldwide, according to the research.
Some orchid species are among those that are totally reliant on wasps for pollination, having evolved to attract the insects by mimicking the back end of a female wasp.
The review also describes other uses for wasps such as wasp-derived medications, as their venom and saliva have antibiotic properties, while yellowjacket wasp venom has shown promise in treating cancer.
Wasps may even be a valuable food source, as their larvae are already harvested in some tropical countries for food, the researchers said.