Many thanks to Barry and Terrance in supplying the following text. It is greatly appreciated. One note to mention, the text is really a question for Newfoundland only. Mainland areas have different issues. One is that they have feral honey bees.
Text: Dr. Barry Wicks
Photography: Terrance Hounsell
Are honey bees detrimental to native bees?
Newfoundland and Labrador have a very small bee fauna compared to mainland Canada; a product of our isolation and cool maritime climate. There are around 80 species of bees in 5 bee families. The most recognizable native bees are the bumble bees (Genus Bombus). There are 12 species recorded but in reality, many of the bumblebees species are not abundant and people likely only see 4 of the most common species (example, Bombus vagans bolsteri in the east and Bombus ternarius in the west).
The western honey bee, Apis mellifera, is not a native species to North America. Here in Newfoundland, honey beekeeping began in the 1930s by a small number of individuals. In the early days the hives died off every fall and new bees were obtained from mainland suppliers in the spring. For a history of beekeeping in Newfoundland, see Hicks (2014). By 2010, beekeeping was still a small endeavor with 5 beekeepers maintaining around 100 colonies (Shutler et el. 2014). Around that time there was considerable media attention given to declines in honey bee numbers on mainland North America and elsewhere due to Colony Collapse Disorder. There was a concerted effort by non-governmental agencies for honey bee conservation. It seemed like everyone wanted to “Save the Bees”. The most well-known campaign was by a popular cereal brand, which appealed to the general population to help save the bees and to plant seeds that they supplied. The impact of planting non-native seeds is a different problem that is important but outside the scope of this thesis. Newfoundland and Labrador have seen an explosion in the number of people becoming beekeepers and in the number of colonies in the last 8 years. We went from 5 beekeepers in 2010 to over 100 beekeepers presently (and that is a conservative estimate). We have gone from 100 colonies in 2010 to an estimated 600-700 colonies. A couple of years ago there was an importation of 150 colonies from Western Australia into Newfoundland. That importation doubled the colony numbers at the time. We can assume that the beekeeper has increased the number as his intentions were to increase the capacity of his company as a supplier of bees to the local market.
Honey bees are known to natively impact the diversity and abundance of native bees (Torne-Noguera et al. 2016). The honey bees are exploitative competitors of wild bees for floral resources (Cane and Tepedino, 2017). In high abundance, honey bees strip flowers of their nectar and pollen preventing wild bees to go without or to use sub-standard nectar resources. If the wild bees are specialist feeders, these bees are unable to use resources from other flowers and thus will be more impacted then generalist bees. New queen bumble bees are produced in the late summer and fall and they must feed to build up fat reserves to successfully over winter. The limited floral resources at that time of the year will be overexploited by nearby honey bee colonies to the detriment of the bumble bee queens. Of most concern, is pathogen spillover by shared flower use of honey bees and wild bees. In recent years, a plethora of literature has been published showing that diseases that were once believed to be restricted to honey bees actually occur readily in many different bee species (see Singh et al. 2010, Furst et al. 2014, Dolezal et al. 2016, , Tehel et al. 2016). The viral (eg. Deformed Wing Virus) and fungal (eg. Nosema ceranae) diseases negatively impact wild bee populations and are transmitted through shared flower use.
In recent years the number of apiaries established around the St John’s area (and the Avalon Peninsula) has increased significantly. A conservative estimate would be close to 50 apiaries in the area. At this time we do not know what abundance of honey bees that will negatively impact native bees. But it is something that we should be thinking about since the native bee diversity is naturally low in the area. We cannot afford to lose any biodiversity of bee species. Studies should be initiated to determine whether native bees are being negatively impacted. On a final note to consider, native bees are much more important to Newfoundland ecosystems than honey bees will ever be. If native bee diversity and abundance declines, we will see significant changes in Newfoundland ecosystems, as many native plants require pollination by these native bees. Honey bees, while important in some cropping systems (eg. almonds in California) they are not important or required for the pollination of any Newfoundland plants. Honey beekeeping in Newfoundland is mostly as a hobby and people should reconsider beekeeping if their intentions are only as a way to “Save the Bees”. Saving honey bees may kill off the more important native bees. Something to consider.
References (all these are freely available on the internet)
Cane J.H. and Tepedino V.J. (2017) Gauging the Effect of Honey Bee Pollen Collection on Native Bee Communities. Conservation Letters 10(2):205–210.
Dolezal A.G. et al. (2016) Honey bee viruses in wild bees: viral prevalence, loads, and experimental inoculation. PLos ONE 11(11): e0166190
Furst M.A. et al (2014) Disease associations between honeybees and bumblebees as a threat to wild pollinators. Nature 506:364-366.
Hicks B (2014) The history and present status of honey beekeeping in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Osprey 45(3):11-14. (Available from the NLBKA website)
Shutler D, et al. (2014) Honey Bee Apis mellifera Parasites in the Absence of Nosema ceranae Fungi and Varroa destructor Mites. PLOS ONE 9(6): e98599.
Singh R. et al (2010) RNA viruses in hymenopteran pollinators: Evidence of inter-taxa vius transmission via pollen and potential impact on non-Apis hymenopteran species. PLos ONE 5(12): e14357.
Tehel A. et al. (2016) Impact of managed honey bee viruses on wild bees. Current Opinion in Virology 19:16-22.
Torné-Noguera A, et al. (2016) Collateral effects of beekeeping: Impacts on pollen-nectar resources and wild bee communities. Basic and Applied Ecology 17:199–209