PerspectiveEcology

Conserving honey bees does not help wildlife

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Science  26 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6374, pp. 392-393
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar2269

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  • RE: Conserving honey bees does not help wildlife

    Honey bees eat the food of other pollinators.
    Keeping artificially a large population of one particular animal species in an open environment probably leads to diminishing resources for other animals competing for the same resources, especially in modern agricultural landscapes, where nectar and pollen are scarcer.

    Through bee keeping nectar, pollen and propolis are diverted for human consumption - resources which would have stayed in wild food networks otherwise. Furthemore honey bees are artificially kept alive with sugar and protein feed from crops - for example sugar cane, sugar beets, sweet corn, apple juice, soy, beer yeast. That is similar to other livestock farming, which divert soil and environment use for livestock production - even if raising public awareness about ecosystems and pesticides in the name of honey bees support has probably positive effects.

    But first it would be good to know whether humans really increase the population of honey bees through bee keeping, in areas where they are native, or just relocate them in hives, to the cost of honey bees living in the wild.
    Concerning areas where honey bees are an introduced species, bee keeping might be a direct resource loss for other nectar and pollen eating insects.
    Honey is a great product and is culturally significant, but it might be more beneficial for ecosystems that humans eat sugar cane rather than feeding it to bees, which are competitors for wild pollinators. Very m...

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    Competing Interests: Son of professional beekeeper (France)
  • The common activities to conserves honey bees do help wildlife
    • Paul Boettcher, Animal Production Officer - Genetic Resources, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
    • Other Contributors:
      • Roswitha Baumung, Animal Production Officer - Genetic Resources, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

    Geldman and Gonzàlez-Varo make many absolutely valid points in their recent “Insights” article about honey bee conservation and wildlife. Conserving honey bees is clearly not equivalent to conserving wild pollinators, but the notion it does not help wildlife is somewhat imprecise. Although the conservation of honey bees has been inequitably promoted relative to natural pollinators, the practice is likely to be more positive than damaging. Many of the options frequently proposed to the general public for honey bee conservation, such as planting flowers and reducing pesticide use or donating to conservation organizations, will also enhance wild pollinator survival. Buying local honey is unlikely to be threatening. Furthermore, although the authors cited several examples of competition between honey bees and other pollinators, this phenomenon is hardly universal. Given the familiarity and generally positive image the public has of honey bees, promotional campaigns for their conservation may be more effective to indirectly improve the situation for all pollinators than pleas to specifically sustain the naturally-occurring species. In fact, the web pages the authors cite as examples of honey bee promotion refer to both wild and domesticated pollinators. Efforts have been made to inform policy-makers of the specific needs of wild pollinators (e.g. the IPBES report) and policy-makers are empowered to enact measures for wildlife conservation.
    Given the importance of both do...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Washington apples in the late summer

    The article states: "In the United States, honey bee hives are moved around to track the bloom of various crops, from California almond groves in early spring to Washington apples in the late summer." I live in eastern WA and apples (and stone fruits like cherries, peaches and apricots) flower in early/mid spring. I think what is happening is that the apiarists move the hives from orchards to public lands around here in late summer so the honey bees can get honey or pollen from native plants.

    Competing Interests: None declared.