An adequate and cost effective supply of honey bees for pollinating crops into the future is uncertain. Luckily, there are better alternatives than the honey bee! Pollen bees (all bees that are not honey bees) and other pollinators (flower flies, moths, butterflies) can help alleviate or prevent pollination shortfalls.
In addition, there are many problems with keeping honey bees:
1) honey bees are not good pollinators. They are efficient pollen collectors but not pollinators because the pollen does not fall off of them easily. Native bees like mason bees pollinate 2-3 times better than honey bees.
2) at their seasonal height, honey bees can reach 80,000 individuals per hive. they communicate so well through dance that they can outstrip an area of pollen and nectar 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 removes the equivalent of the larval mass pollen provisions of 4,000,000 solitary bees.
3) honey bees originated from Asia so they co-evolved with the plants growing in Asia. In the United States, the honey bees have been found to preferentially pollinate these non-native species, increasing the seed set and spread of these at times invasive plants (Barthell et al. 2001).
4) honey bees have been known to transmit diseases and parasites to native bees, including bumble bees (Hoffmann et al. 2008; Graystock et al. 2016).
Still on the fence on whether you should ranch native bees or keep honey bees? The latest 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. Biodiversity makes our world vibrant – Go Native Bees!
, , , . 1999. Impact of introduced honeybees, Apis mellifera, upon native bee communities in the Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands. Researches Population Ecology 41:217–228.
, . 2005. Commercial honey bees (Apis mellifera) reduce the fecundity of an Australian native bee (Hylaeus alcyoneus). Biological Conservation 123:103–112.