Honeybees vs Native Bees: Help the right Bees!
Did you know that Honeybees (Apis mellifera) are not native to North America? They compete for resources and can spread disease to the native bees in your local area. While Honeybees are important to American Agriculture, amateurs should think twice before starting a hive on their property. Honeybees could be considered as keeping free roaming chickens to help the native birds. Honeybees can travel a few miles from their hive for foraging and thus harm bees in wild areas too. Native bees can be terrific pollinators, but need more habitat set aside for them, as they can’t be transported to the next 1000 acres of field in bloom. They need the continuous bloom of flowers locally. We have compiled some resources to learn more about the issue.
1. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-problem-with-honey-bees/ To many people, honeybees symbolize prosperity, sustainability and environmentalism. But as a honeybee researcher, I have to tell you that only the first item on that list is defensible. Although they are important for agriculture, honeybees also destabilize natural ecosystems by competing with native bees—some of which are species at risk.
2. https://blog.nature.org/science/2019/08/19/focus-on-native-bees-not-honey-bees/ Honeybees also don’t cover the wide range of ecological roles played by our diverse native bee communities. The aforementioned variety of features and behaviors found within native bees means they can meet the needs of an incredible diversity of flowering plants. In contrast, honeybees provide pollination for a relatively small percentage of native flower species (estimates from around the world vary between 25 percent and 40 percent). In order to conserve the full species diversity and resilience of our ecosystems, we need our native bees.
3. https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2011/10/native-bees-are-better-pollinators-honeybees The honeybee has hogged the pollination spotlight for centuries, but native bees are now getting their fair share of buzz: They are two to three times better pollinators than honeybees, are more plentiful than previously thought and not as prone to the headline-catching colony collapse disorder that has decimated honeybee populations, says Cornell entomology professor Bryan Danforth.
4. https://e360.yale.edu/features/will-putting-honey-bees-on-public-lands-threaten-native-bees As suitable sites become scarce, commercial beekeepers are increasingly moving their hives to U.S. public lands. But scientists warn that the millions of introduced honeybees pose a risk to native species, outcompeting them for pollen and altering fragile plant communities.
The cluster of honeybee colonies in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest is among thousands of hives belonging to 112 apiaries currently permitted in national forests by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The problem, scientists and environmentalists argue, is that these hives are being permitted on public lands with almost no environmental review and despite concern about the ecological impact that industrial-sized apiaries containing non-native, domesticated honeybees can have on local wild bee populations.
Learn about Native Bees:
- Bee_Basics_North_American_Bee_ID.pdf (usda.gov) a wonderful overview on the native bees; their lifecycle and habitats
- Common Bees of Michigan Pictorial Handout(msu.edu)
- Michigan Bumble Bees – Michigan Natural Features Inventory (msu.edu) See the historic and current ranges of Michigan Bumblebees
- Field Guide to Bumblebees
- OSU Webinar Series
Are Bee Hotels helping or a problem?
“If the nests are never cleaned, they can harbor bee pests and diseases, putting local bees at greater harm than if no nests had been provided.” Building and Managing Bee Hotels for Wild Bees (msu.edu)
“But these well-meaning hoteliers may not be helping native bees as much as they think, researchers argue in PLOS ONE. Instead, a new study suggests that bee hotels can favor other insects such as wasps and non-native bees. ‘Bee hotels’ have unwanted guests – Conservation (conservationmagazine.org)
A better option is to grow native plants with pithy or hollow stems
(Elderberry, Raspberry, Joe-Pye, Cup Plant, Rose Mallow, Wild Bergamot, Milkweed, and many more)
Leaves stems standing, or only trim back to 12-18″ height creating natural openings for stem nesting bees to use. The annual renewal of new stems not clustered together creates healthier cavities, the way nature has done for eons.
See this graphic StemNestingBeesWeb (pollinatorsnativeplants.com)