The following was published in the January 1996 issue of Apis Melbourne (no longer in print). It quotes an article from the Melbourne Sun, published January 22, 1996:
“The humble honeybee is one of Australia’s most environmentally damaging creatures, according to a scientist. Dr. Graham Pike said the honeybee was responsible for driving out several native species of fauna as well as having a bad effect on Australian flora. While the theory is not new, Dr. Pike said evidence was mounting to support the idea that the honeybee was having a long-term impact on the environment.
“Introduced to Australia from Europe in 1822, the honeybee was an established feral predator competing with the 3000 Australian native species of bees for territory, Dr. Pike said. It stole pollen and nectar from under the noses of native bees, moths, butterflies and birds such as the honeyeater, forcing native species out of the environment. It also competed with native fauna for tree hollows and was a poor pollinator of Australian flora — thereby retarding natural ecological development. Dr. Pike said while there were imperfections in some of the research done on the bees, there was overwhelming evidence pointing to honeybees having a damaging effect on the Australian environment. “When you look at all these facts pointing to honeybees having a negative impact on flora and fauna you have a strong prima facie case,” Dr. Pike, an expert in pollination ecology, said. Field studies have shown heavy impact on native fauna and flora in areas where high concentrations of honeybees were found.
“Most bees you see are honeybees, they use most of the Australian flora and this results in poor pollination because they haven’t adapted to Australian flora,” he said. But Dr. Pike’s contentions have been met with opposition from the beekeeping industry. Honeybees are a huge industry in Australia worth tens of millions of dollars a year. “Let’s say we don’t see eye to eye,” said Dr. Pike. Dr. Pike said studies were being done into possible poison control methods to reduce the numbers of feral bees. A program of no new licences for beekeepers under New South Wales State Government legislation would also see the eventful phasing out of licences,” he said.
Many of Dr. Pike’s arguments seem pertinent to a number of world regions where honey bees have been introduced. This is the reason those in charge of preserves and other “natural” areas have considered actively eliminating beekeepers. In the past, the argument that feral honey bees would simply fill the void left by beekeepers existed. And there is the pollination value of honey bees in both wild and agricultural areas. Honey bees, however, are not necessarily the best pollinators in all situations.
“Agricultural production could be threatened if populations of bees and other pollinators continue to decline, according to the Forgotten Pollinators Campaign. The Campaign emphasizes North American agriculture and ecology, but advocates greater awareness and protection of pollinators worldwide. Most fruits and vegetables consumed globally grow as a result of pollination, the process by which pollen is carried from one flower to another, thereby increasing the chances for fertilization and fruit production. According to the campaign’s literature, a recent survey of wild plants documented that over 60% of the plant species studied may suffer reduced seed set due to pollinator scarcity.
“Honey bees and the 4,000-5,000 species of wild bees native to North America pollinate 60 major crops in the U.S., including potatoes, melons, cotton, onions and almonds. According to the Forgotten Pollinators Campaign, the pollination services provided by wild and domestic bees are 40-50 times more valuable than the market price of all honey produced in the U.S. Steve Buchmann, a specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) bee laboratory in Tucson, Arizona and a research associate at the Campaign, recently stated that the hidden value to crop pollination by bees could be as high as US $10 billion. Other significant pollinators include flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, hummingbirds and bats.
“Wild pollinators are often more vulnerable to pesticides than domestic honey bees, and the Campaign calls for more stringent controls of toxic chemical applications near their nesting and foraging sites and for better training of pesticide applicators in monitoring for pollinators. Pollinators receive only piecemeal attention at university agricultural programs and government agencies.
“The Campaign calls for placing greater emphasis on pollinator diversity and ecology at agricultural schools. It also urges USDA, the U.S. National Biological Service and similar agencies in other countries to take comprehensive inventories of crop pollinators and pollinators of keystone plant species in wildlands. Such inventories would allow for more accurate appraisals of the costs to agriculture due to pollinator loss inflicted by pesticide use and habitat destruction. Presently, the economic value of pollination services are generally not taken into account when government agencies assess the value of protecting wild species or the costs of maintaining agricultural yields.”
The Forgotten Pollinators Campaign takes into consideration both the agricultural and natural landscapes, and considers all organisms important in the pollination process. This focused approach to ensure adequate pollinating of all plants so important to human welfare should be embraced by the beekeeper . In the long run, this will be a much more effective strategy to strengthen the apicultural industry’s image and credibility than by promoting the honey bee as the pollinating agent of choice in all circumstances.