The humble honeybee was domesticated by humans thousands of years ago, and today it plays an important role in the world economy as a pollinator of crops.
In recent years, a significant amount of attention has been paid to the numerous threats that are facing the honeybee. But contrary to what many people believe, not all bees are in dire straits. For example, numbers of the Western honeybee—the most common of the domesticated species—in the United States have actually been rising slowly in recent years (there around 2.9 million colonies today compared with 2.5 million colonies 10 years ago, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture), and the species is not at risk of extinction.
This is not to say that the situation is good. Huge numbers of hives are being lost every winter and spring, with some beekeepers reporting losses exceeding 40 percent, May Berenbaum, a professor with the department of entomology at the University of Illinois, told Newsweek.
Essentially, honeybee numbers in the U.S. are only stable because beekeepers are becoming better at compensating for losses, so it’s becoming a very time-consuming and expensive process just to maintain their current levels.
A number of policy and conservation initiatives have been put in place to address these kinds of issues. But according to a 2016 paper in Conservation Biology, while such efforts may sound beneficial, they may actually be exacerbating another significant problem—the decline of native bee species, such as bumblebees, of which there are around 4,000 in North America. Unlike the honeybee, a small portion of these native species are classified at risk of extinction.
“We argue that North American honeybee losses are not a conservation problem,” the authors wrote. “Rather, they are a domesticated‐animal‐management problem. By focusing attention on honeybees, policies and funding priorities may undermine native bee conservation and have negative impacts, ecologically and socially.”
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