Could Captive Honey Bees Be Hurting Wild Bees?

Could Captive Honey Bees Be Hurting Wild Insects?

Bees are under attack as a result of pesticides and disease, and they have been for the past decade. Apiculturists have been raising captive honey bees for commercial purposes to make up for a nearly one-third decline in honey bees. But what if pollination efforts could be causing issues?

New research has found that commercial bees may be causing unwanted side effects for wild bees and other wild insects.

A team of researchers publishing in the Journal of Applied Ecology, found diseases that start in commercial species may jump to more vulnerable wild species. Scientists at the University of Exeter, found that wild insects like bumble bees, wasps, ants, and butterflies may become ill as a result of diseases that non-native captive bees bring in from other places, reported TreeHugger. And when a new place doesn’t have experience with a disease, it has less or no resistance to it. It’s an unwanted result of trying to do a good thing.

Honey bees have been especially hit hard since bee keepers first reported a problem in 2006. One-third of bees have been hit with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The disease causes seemingly healthy honey bees to abandon their hives.

According to USDA Agricultural Research Service:

The main symptom of CCD is very low or no adult honey bees present in the hive but with a live queen and no dead honey bee bodies present. Often there is still honey in the hive, and immature bees (brood) are present. Varroa mites, a virus-transmitting parasite of honey bees, have frequently been found in hives hit by CCD.

Scientists think that a variety of issues could be at play here, causing the bees to get sick. A combination of pesticide exposure, parasitic mites, and an inadequate food supply may be causing the bees to disappear.

I wrote last month that President Obama has convened a group of experts to figure out how to save pollinators, namely honey bees. In June, the Obama Administration announced $8 million in funding for farmers and ranchers to establish safe habitats for honey bees who have been victimized by the onslaught of pesticide use.

The health of the honey bee population is a huge deal. Not only is the species at risk, bees also support a lucrative industry. Bee pollination is responsible for $15 billion in crop value annually. Crops like tree nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables depend on honey bee pollination. In California for example, 1.4 million colonies of honey bees are required in the almond industry.

There’s a lot we still have to learn about whether captive bees could really damage wild species, but one thing we know for sure is that the overuse of pesticides nationwide is one of the main reasons why this important pollinator started declining in the first place.

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Close up of a honey bee from Shuttershock