Honey bee hives should be banned from parklands, open space, and conservation easements in order to protect resident native bee populations and overall ecosystem health. As all honey bees in the United States are an invasive, non-native species, they should be recognized as livestock and only appropriate to pollinate large scale, single crop agriculture where pesticides are heavily relied on, there is little to no natural habitat set aside and pollinator availability is a problem.
Declining honey bee populations have gripped the headlines and unfortunately spurred many land managers to allow hives on protected lands. Receiving a fraction of the media attention, native bee populations have been hit even harder and are ecologically more important (Mathiasson & Rehan 2019). Countless papers have shown that honey bees outcompete native bees for food, change the ecosystem by preferentially pollinating invasive weeds, and can transmit pathogens and parasites to native bee species (see Mallinger et al. 2017 for review of literature, as well as information below). A multitude of native bees, including mason bees, pollinate 2-3 times better than honeybees because of their furriness, way of flying and how they visit flowers.
Honey bee colonies threaten the key ecological role native bees play in nature and in food production. In addition to all the peer -reviewed journal articles cited below, check out the winner of the 2020 Yale Environment 360 Video Contest “Buzz Kill”. As McDonough shows in her film, large numbers of commercial honeybees set loose on a landscape can outcompete native bees for pollen and nectar. Industrialized agriculture and the widespread loss of habitat pose a serious challenge to native bees.
1) Competition with native bees for floral resources: In New York State, there are 447 documented bee species (Ascher et al. 2014). At their seasonal height, honey bees can reach 80,000 individuals per hive. They can forage over large fragmented areas to visit thousands of flowers and once a good food source is found, recruit their nestmates to help collect the pollen and nectar. Honey bees communicate so well through dance that the colony as a whole can outstrip an area of food before the pollen bees (mason bees, cellophane bees, sweat bees, etc) can fully take advantage (Kato et al. 1999; Dupont et al. 2003; Paini 2005; Hudewenz & Klein 2013). According to Cane & Tepedino (2017), an apiary of 40 hives residing on wildlands for three months removes the food resources that would otherwise be available to rear 4 million solitary bees.
The 2018 review paper from Environmental Entomology entitled “Floral Resource Competition Between Honey Bees and Wild Bees: Is There Clear Evidence and Can We Guide Management and Conservation?” is a great read. Of the experiments examining growth and reproduction, six of seven studies documented reduced growth and/or reduced reproductive output in wild bee populations from the presence of managed honey bees. Imagine it – smaller bumblebees and fewer bumblebees flying around because the honey bees hoarded all of the food! Since all bees feed on flowers, the potential for food competition between managed honey bees and native bees in natural areas is great. Biologists are concerned that added competition and other interactions with managed honey bees will exacerbate wild bee population declines.
2) Altering the ecosystem by increasing seed set of non-native plants: Honey bees originated in Asia and rapidly spread through Europe and Africa (Wallberg et al. 2014). European settlers brought honey bees to the East
Coast in 1622. Thus, honey bees co-evolved with the plants originally growing on another continent. In the United States, honey bees have been found to preferentially pollinate non-native plant species, increasing the
seed set and spread of these at times invasive plants. For example, Barthell et al. (2001) examined the role of honey bees as pollinators of the invasive, nonnative plant species yellow star‐thistle. A significant correlation existed between honey bee visitation levels monitored in all of the transects and the average number of viable seeds per seed head for the same transects. Selective exclusion of honey bees at flower heads using a 3mm diameter mesh significantly reduced seed set per seed head at all locales. While floral competition studies overwhelmingly show that managed bees negatively affect wild bees, the literature for the effect of managed bees on plant community composition has yet to be fully elucidated (Mallinger et al. 2017).
3) Transmission of pathogens and parasites: Honey bees frequently have a negative effect on wild bees due to their diseases and parasites (Mallinger et al. 2017; Hoffman et al. 2008), and the presence of managed bees can alter pathogen loads in native bees by a number of different mechanisms including facilitation, spillover and spill back (Graystock et al., 2016). Murray et al. (2018) surveyed five commercially managed apple orchards with rented honey bee colonies for black queen cell virus (BQCV), deformed wing virus (DWV) and sacbrood virus (SBV) in 2014 and found strong evidence that honey bee viruses cross over to distantly related ground-nesting wild bees (mining bees). All viruses were found in both managed and native bees, and BQCV was the most common virus in each. Half of the foraging bees tested positive for at least one of the three viruses. Preliminary research from the Murray team indicates that these viruses may have the potential to have widespread effects on wild pollinators.
Ascher, J.S., S. Kornbluth, and R.G. Goelet (2014) Bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Anthophila) of Gardiners Island, Suffolk County, New York. Northeastern Naturalist. 21(1) 47-71 DOI: 10.1656/045.021.0105
Barthell, J.F., J.M. Randall, R.W. Thorp, and A.M. Wenner (2001) Promotion of seed set in yellow star-thistle by honey bees: evidence of an invasive mutualism. Ecological Applications. 11:1870–1883.
Cane, J.H. and V. Tepedino (2017) Gauging the effect of honey bee pollen collection on native bee communities. Conservation Letters. 10:205–210.
Dupont, Y.L., D.M. Hanse, A. Valido, and J.M. Olesen (2003) Impact of introduced honeybees on native pollination interactions of the endemic Echium wildpretii (Boraginaceae) on Tenerife, Canary Islands. Biological Conservation. 18:301–311.
Graystock, P., E.J. Blane, Q.S. McFrederick, D. Goulson, and W.O. Hughes (2016) Do managed bees drive parasite spread and emergence in wild bees? International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife. 5:64–75.
Hoffmann, D., J.S. Pettis, and P. Neumann (2008) Potential host shift of the small hive beetle (Aethina tumida) to bumblebee colonies (Bombus impatiens). Insectes Sociaux. 55:153–162.
Hudewenz, A. and A.M. Klein (2013) Competition between honey bees and wild bees and the role of nesting resources in a nature reserve. Journal of Insect Conservation. 17:1275–1283.
Kato, M., A. Shibata, T. Yasui, and H. Nagamasu (1999) Impact of introduced honeybees, Apis mellifera, upon native bee communities in the Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands. Researches Population Ecology. 41:217–228.
Mallinger, R. E., H.R. Gaines-Day, and C. Gratton (2017) Do managed bees have negative effects on wild bees?: A systematic review of the literature. PLOS One. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0189268
Mathiasson, M. E. and S.E. Rehan (2019) Status changes in the wild bees of north‐eastern North America over 125 years revealed through museum specimens. Insect Conservation and Diversity. DOI: 10.1111/icad.12347
Murray, E.A., J. Burand, N. Trikoz, J. Schnabel, H. Grab, and B.N. Danforth (2018) Viral transmission in honey bees and native bees, supported by a global black queen cell virus phylogeny. Environmental Microbiology.
21(3): 972-983 [published online 10 December 2018; https://doi-org.proxy.library.cornell.edu/10.1111/1462-2920.14501]
Paini, D.R. and J.D. Roberts (2005) Commercial honey bees (Apis mellifera) reduce the fecundity of an Australian native bee (Hylaeus alcyoneus). Biological Conservation. 123:103–112.
Wallberg, A., F. Han, G. Wellhagen, B. Dahle, M. Kawata, N. Haddad, Z.L.P. Simões, M.H. Allsopp, I. Kandemir, P. De la Rúa, C.W. Pirk, and M.T. Webster (2014) A worldwide survey of genome sequence variation provides insight into the evolutionary history of the honeybee Apis mellifera. Nature Genetics. 46: 1081– 1. DOI: 10.1038/NG.3077
Wojcik, V.A., L.A. Morandin, L. D. Adams, and K.E. Rourke (2018) Floral Resource Competition Between Honey Bees and Wild Bees: Is There Clear Evidence and Can We Guide Management and Conservation? Environmental Entomology. 47(4): 822–833 https://doi.org/10.1093/ee/nvy077