Honey bees

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). Honey bees deplete the pollen and nectar produced in local plant communities. 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.
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!

1. Barthell JF, Randall JM, Thorp RW, Wenner AM. 2001. Promotion of seed set in yellow star-thistle by honey bees: evidence of an invasive mutualismEcological Applications 11:18701883.
2. Cane JH, Tepedino V. 2017. Gauging the effect of honey bee pollen collection on native bee communities. Conservation Letters 10:205210.
3. Dupont YL, Hanse DM, Valido A, Olesen JM. 2003. Impact of introduced honeybees on native pollination interactions of the endemic Echium wildpretii (Boraginaceae) on Tenerife, Canary IslandsBiological Conservation 18:301311.
4. Graystock P, Blane EJ, McFrederick QS, Goulson D, Hughes WO 2016. Do managed bees drive parasite spread and emergence in wild bees? International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife5:6475.
5. Hoffmann D, Pettis JS, Neumann P. 2008. Potential host shift of the small hive beetle (Aethina tumida) to bumblebee colonies (Bombus impatiens). Insectes Sociaux. 55:153162.
6. Hudewenz A, Klein AM. 2013. Competition between honey bees and wild bees and the role of nesting resources in a nature reserve. Journal of Insect Conservation 17:12751283.
7. Kato M
, Shibata A, Yasui T, Nagamasu H. 1999. Impact of introduced honeybees, Apis mellifera, upon native bee communities in the Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands. Researches Population Ecology 41:217228.
8. Paini DR, Roberts JD. 2005. Commercial honey bees (Apis mellifera) reduce the fecundity of an Australian native bee (Hylaeus alcyoneus). Biological Conservation 123:103112.