Native bee populations are rapidly diminishing, when viewed at the landscape level. Habitat loss and habitat degradation are two of the largest threats. This bodes poorly for plant species that depend on them for pollination services. As native bee populations decline, they pollinate fewer individual flowers. Fewer flowers pollinated results in fewer viable seeds, reducing chances for future new individual plants.
As native plant diversity diminishes an ecosystem can get into a negative feedback cycle: fewer bees–>less pollination–> fewer fertile seeds–> fewer plants–> fewer flowers–> fewer bees–>less pollination–>fewer fertile seeds–>fewer plants–> And the cycle spirals downward.
A good place to start understanding the conservation challenges facing native bees is with the 2020 winner of the Yale Environmental 360 Video Contest: Helping Native Bees Thrive in a Honeybee World
Native bee conservation and the honeybee.
Scientists are also now starting to get the uneasy feeling that (honey)bees compete for floral resources and give our native pollinators a serious run for their money. The mere presence of managed honeybees also reduces the native species’ abundance through spatial displacement – perhaps bullying is a better description. Ruud Kleinpaste (NZ)
Honeybees are non-native to North America, having been brought to this continent starting in the early days of European colonization. In colonial days, honeybees were as important for their beeswax for candles as they were for their honey. Now honeybees are highly valued for their ability to pollinate thousands of acres of commercial crops in a few short weeks before they are boxed up and shipped off to another part of the country to repeat the process of pollination on another large scale agricultural crop.
Honeybees are very important for modern agricultural systems to work. Honeybees are facing a lot of serious problems because they are treated more as a commodity than living creatures–including high exposure to agricultural chemicals, crowded conditions leading to viral and mite infections, and often maintained on a less than optimal diet so the honey they produce to eat can instead be sold commercially. Honeybee conservation is very important to our agricultural interests.
Unfortunately the presence of honeybees in an area may be a good indication that our native bee populations are already depressed and negatively impacted–by the presence of the honey bees.
Honeybees compete with our native bees for resources in the form of nectar and pollen. A honeybee hive contains between 30,000 and 80,000 individuals at the height of summer. It takes a lot of nectar and pollen to not only feed and raise all those young honeybees, but also to make the many pounds of honey they store to live on during the winter. The pollen and nectar collected by honeybees is pollen and nectar not available to our native species.
The honeybee hives and their concentration of bee hosts pose a threat to native bees from a pathogen transfer potential, virus, bacteria, mites, etc…
For the most part Nature plays a zero sum game. There are few uncontested resources in the natural world. Everyone needs to eat. Food is rarely consistently plentiful. Survival of the fittest.
Honeybees, being supported by humans, have a competitive advantage against our native species.
Our natives need all the help they can get.
You can help!
Habitat is the Key to Wildlife
The fun thing about native bees is that, just like the movie, if you build it they will come. Build a garden that is. See the section on Gardening for Bumble Bees for more details.
By planting a variety of native plants so there are blooms available throughout the season we encourage and support all the species of native bees we already have sharing our community spaces.
Big flowers, little flowers, fruit trees, berry bushes. A diversity of plant species and their flowers from early spring into the fall will help your local native bees. Always prioritize native flowering plants and recognize co-evolution occurs.
Please meet with your city council and county commissioners, asking them to prioritize pollinator habitat management on city and county properties. Focusing attention on pollinator friendly plants when landscaping decisions are made can make a great deal of different to our native pollinators. It is their community too–make them feel more at home!