The Bee Lab promotes the conservation, health and diversity of ALL bees, native and non-native, wild and managed. All bees play a keystone role in the productivity of agriculture and the beauty of our world through the pollination of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and flowers. The disruption of natural habitats leading to lack of “bee flowers,” the widespread overuse of pesticides, and numerous bee diseases and parasites have created a health crisis for managed bees and declines in our wild bees. You may be considering keeping your own honey bee colonies to “save the bees”.
There are many compelling reasons to keep honey bees, but we are learning that the health problems facing honey bees actually can be exacerbated by too many beekeepers keeping too many bee colonies. A high density of bee colonies can lead to competition for few floral resources, and the spread of pests and diseases, particularly if beekeepers do not monitor and treat these problems. The best way to save the bees is to plant flowers and keep those flowers free of pesticide contamination.
As people become more aware of the importance of native pollinators, there is growing concern about negative impacts of honey bees on native pollinators from competition for food and spread of diseases. With our current knowledge, it is difficult to make specific recommendations to limit these impacts. Honey bee colonies should only be placed in areas with more than enough flowers to support them. We know that planting more flowers will increase the likelihood that there will be enough food for all the bees. We also suspect that having more flowers will decrease the number of flowers that are being shared, and so decrease the likelihood of spreading diseases. While we have some ideas of what might be enough to support honey bees, we don’t have a good idea of how much is enough for honey bees and native bees together. The safest bet to keep native bees healthy is to reduce their exposure to honey bees. If you are keeping honey bees and want to do all you can to help other pollinators, keep your colonies as healthy as you can and provide abundant flowers in the area surrounding your apiary.
Everyone can help support all bees in five ways: