Increase in Urban Beekeeping Could Be Harming Wild Bees
A new study raises concerns over the rise in urban beekeeping, as researchers say it could be negatively impacting wild bees. Urban beekeeping could be especially harmful for smaller bees that have limited foraging ranges.
A team led by researchers at Concordia University compared bee populations, collecting data from 15 sites around Montreal in 2013 and again in the same sites in 2020. Sites included parks, community gardens and cemeteries. Additionally, the researchers analyzed habitats, floral resources and other factors that impact wild bees.
“We found that the sites with the largest increase in honeybee populations across sites and years also had the fewest wild bee species,” Gail MacInnis, lead author of the study and a former postdoctoral researcher at Concordia University, said in a statement.
The researchers collected a total of 6,200 bees from June to September 2020. About 4,000 samples were wild bees of 120 different species, while around 2,200 bees were honeybees. By comparison, the researchers collected 5,200 total bees in 2013, and almost all of the bees were wild bees from 163 different species.
Urban honey bees had the greatest impact on small wild bees, which could be at risk as they have to compete for resources with larger bees that require more floral resources for energy when the smaller native bees already have limited foraging ranges. The increase in honeybees was also linked to lower pollen in white clover flowers, according to the study, which was published in the journal PeerJ.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in Quebec found that honey bee colonies increased from around 250 bees in 2013 to nearly 3,000 by 2020. A single colony can support as many as 50,000 bees.
Although honey bees are well-known pollinators, they are not native to Montreal. As such, introducing honey bees through urban beekeeping is leading to a strain on resources for the nearly 180 native bee species in the area.
”Beekeeping provides an agricultural product that is valuable to people in the form of honey. My concern is that urban beekeeping is often falsely marketed as a solution to biodiversity loss,” said Carly Ziter, co-author of the study. “Just as we wouldn’t advocate keeping backyard chickens to save the birds, we shouldn’t look to beekeeping to save the bees. It’s important that our actions match our goals or motivations.”
The researchers are further concerned about the potential for diseases to spread across urban bee populations, as newer beekeepers may be less equipped to control viruses or mites, which could lead to more harm of native bees.
Instead of focusing on setting up hives in urban settings, the researchers suggested that cities should be keeping registries of beekeepers and establishing more sustainable beekeeping frameworks, in addition to more natural solutions.
“If our goal is to increase urban biodiversity, we’re much better off planting pollinator gardens than adding more urban hives,” Ziter said.
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