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The Wrong Side of The Bee War: Honey Bees as Invasive Species  RSS feed

 
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To begin,

You would be hard pressed to find someone as passionately in love with the European Honey Bee, (Apis mellifera), as I currently am, and have been for the past decade.

That being said, a thought has been nagging at me ever since I [dropped out] of a beekeeping course last summer. Hints to this thought lie in the common name of the honey bee itself, and our understanding of mellifera's origins. Another hint came from my first hearing stories of early American Indians calling the bee, "the White Man's fly," (an interesting thread on the origins and veracity of these stories can be found here: https://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?256722-White-Man-s-Flies-Bees-in-America)

The thought revealed: Are Honey Bees, whose plight for survival in the wake of Colony Collapse Disorder has captured the hearts and imaginations of progressives and conservatives alike, throughout the world, an invasive species?

I would like to begin this conversation with some articles I found with a quick Google search:


https://www.insidescience.org/news/how-bees-you-know-are-killing-bees-you-don%E2%80%99t

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-16054-5

https://www.bee-safe.eu/article/invasive-bees-do-no-good/

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/bees-gone-wild/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5198217/

https://theconversation.com/bee-battles-why-our-native-pollinators-are-losing-the-war-40620


The deeper issue here is thus: Are we doing more harm than good by propagating advocacy towards crucial environmental issues without establishing a clear understanding of larger environmental relationships and impacts with regards to native ecosystems?

Chew it up and spit it out; I am itching to hear the thoughts of other bee lovers and conservationists.
 
master pollinator
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This article  https://theconversation.com/bee-battles-why-our-native-pollinators-are-losing-the-war-40620  is about the non-native Wool-carder Bee, not the Honey Bee.


 
steward
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discussions along these lines have come up on the site before, so you're not alone in wondering. my short answer would be that there are thoughtful, conscientious, and beneficial ways to use many technologies, and there are harmful and destruction ways to use those same technologies. used as a prop for industrial agriculture, the technology of keeping honey bees is probably a net harm. used in a way that complements and benefits existing ecosystems and supports other regenerative practices, that technology can be entirely positive.

of course, that nuance is not easily captured in a short sound bite or slogan, and the concerned public is not likely to take the time to dig deeper than sensational headlines. I have already observed opinion beginning to swing away from "save the honeybees" among non-beekeepers. and these folks aren't wrong, they just don't grasp the whole picture. I wouldn't be so bold as to claim that I do grasp the whole picture, by the way.
 
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Are honey bees imported? Absolutely.

Will anything that hurts the honey bees also hurt our native bumblebees? Yeah, I am fairly certain it will.

Honey bees are not invasive because a great many native predators eat them, and that keeps the population under control. The population does not get large enough to injure the native species.
 
master pollinator
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There was, perhaps, an argument to be made around the time of european contact that european imports might displace local ecology. The time for such arguments is past, as containment is not an option, and eradication would do more harm to the environment than good.

The larger issue is one of biodiversity. Does the presence of the european honeybee increase or decrease the amount of biodiversity in a given system? Does it affect the population numbers, and if so, how?

I think honey bees could be contrasted with invasive earthworm species in terms of environmental impact. Earthworms making their way into leaf litter-based systems, at last check, had the potential to change the soil that has to date supported american hardwood trees, leading to shifts in ecology. I don't see any analogous potential damage related to bee activity that isn't being caused by human economic interests.

I think the point made above that an invasive needs to have an uncontrollable expansive quality to its population growth is valid. If kudzu didn't strangle everything and didn't spread itself so easily, it would just be another fast-growing, nitrogen fixing fodder crop.

-CK
 
master pollinator
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used as a prop for industrial agriculture, the technology of keeping honey bees is probably a net harm. used in a way that complements and benefits existing ecosystems and supports other regenerative practices, that technology can be entirely positive.  



Agreed.

I'm going to research the subject more & seriously reconsider letting most swarms go feral though. Thanks for the new bee related rabbit hole.
 
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I welcome all species of plant and animal to my farm, regardless of where they were living last week, last century, or last millennium. I don't wage war on life.
 
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In a two mile radius of our home, there used to be two families who kept honeybees.  Honeybees were the dominant pollinator here.  Several years ago these people gave up their hobby.  Now the vacuum has been filled by bumblebees on our property, so Nature does fill in the blanks.  I prefer the slower moving bumblebees.  They're easier to see and avoid than the smaller honeybees used to be when they were plentiful.  I wonder how long it will be before humans attempt to domesticate and exploit the bumblebee.
 
tel jetson
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Marci Sudlow wrote:I wonder how long it will be before humans attempt to domesticate and exploit the bumblebee.



that ship sailed a while back.
 
Marci Sudlow
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that ship sailed a while back.



Wasn't successful then, I take it?
 
tel jetson
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Marci Sudlow wrote:Wasn't successful then, I take it?



I suppose that depends on how you define success. https://www.buglogical.com/bumble-bees-natural-pollination/
 
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I welcome all species of plant and animal to my farm, regardless of where they were living last week, last century, or last millennium. I don't wage war on life.


The property I live on, which is an individual allotment of native reserve land within the Creek Nation, we manage likewise.  Most of the 40 acres is deciduous hardwood forest in various stages of succession, punctuated by various bits of erosion and blight due to historical mismanagement of petroleum production and cattle overgrazing.  It's frustrating and almost funny: I like to take pictures of large or interesting spiders and other creepy-crawlies and post them on an anodyne social media account that I use mostly for maintaining connection with distant family and old family friends.  My one sister who has a bit of phobia will usually post her verbal eeks and shudders, whereupon there's another semi-local person who will *always* chime in with fifty words of high-specific unsolicited advice consisting of an expensive, labor-intensive, impractical, and utterly undesirable broadcast poisoning scheme for eradicating whatever critter was photographed.  I usually don't even bother to respond, although the other day I did feel moved to observe, as if in jest, that malathion (which the guy had recommended in all seriousness, though of course he meant that I should broadcast it from fence to fence) was not commercially available as a body spray.  
 
Mike Barkley
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Was thinking more about this subject when I remembered that 100 years ago in North America there were many more "kept" honeybees than today. Which logically means there were more feral honeybees. The honeybees weren't wiping out any other bees at that time. There must be other factors like ... hmmm .... loss of native species & habitat, poisons, & pollution perhaps. Just a wild guess.
 
tel jetson
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Mike Barkley wrote:The honeybees weren't wiping out any other bees at that time.



I wouldn't be so sure. that there aren't records of that happening only means that there aren't records of that happening. could be because all the bees were getting along just fine, but it could also be because nobody bothered (or had the resources) to look into it.

bumblebees, alkali bees, and other less well-known pollinating insects are also relatively new to the commercial/industrial pollination game, so their impacts on ecosystems are less likely to have reached anything resembling a steady state or dynamic equilibrium. that makes those impacts a lot easier to understand because they can be observed in real time. the consequences of honeybees spreading through the Americas, in contrast, are largely a case of forensics by this point, though modern beekeeping methods are no doubt causing a whole new wave of ecosystem changes.
 
Mike Barkley
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I had the same thought 2 seconds after I pushed the submit button. I suppose we'll never really know.

Not quite sure what to make of this subject yet. Maybe the best approach will be to help all the bees not just honeybees. Restoring native plants, etc. I'm loosely involved with a project like that already.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Mike Barkley wrote:Maybe the best approach will be to help all the bees not just honeybees. Restoring native plants, etc.  



Now that makes my head spin!!! Should I be planting natives from the honeybees homeland, which would be non-native where they are currently living in the Americas?
 
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Mike Barkley
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Should I be planting natives from the honeybees homeland, which would be non-native where they are currently living in the Americas?



That's not what I meant at all. Was suggesting planting/restoring native plants for the native bees. The honeybees have adapted. Will be talking to the state apiarist in a few weeks. Wonder what advice he'll have?
 
Mike Barkley
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I spent the majority of the past week in & around the veggie garden. Paid particular attention to pollinators. Glad to say there are still many. Bumblebees, honey bees, smaller yellowish bees, micro-bees, & what appears to be a different type of bumblebee that goes strictly for pumpkin. They're waiting for those flowers to open at dawn. Have a few pollinator flowers around the outside edge. Butterflies & hummingbirds were constantly present there. Much other insect life in the surrounding area too. Night time sounds like an orchestra of bugs. Don't know if it's less insects than a century or two ago.
 
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