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Honeybee Conservation May Be Good For Agriculture But Bad For Wild Pollinators

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Many organizations and companies are trying to make concrete steps when it comes to saving the world's bees from colony collapse, parasites, pesticides, and even artificial lighting.

As it turns out, scientists also have concerns when it comes to the conservation efforts because evidently, extensive honey bee conservation efforts may also harm their environment.

Spotlight On The Honeybee

There has been a lot of conscious effort as of late when it comes to bee conservation and this has some experts worrying about the balance in the ecosystem. In a commentary published in the journal Science, Jonas Geldmann and Juan P. Gonzalez-Varo from the University of Cambridge explained why the concern for honeybee (Apis mellifera) population is quite misunderstood, and how it may even be harming other pollinators.

Generally, there is a belief in the media that saving honey bees would be a significant environmental feat. Although companies and organizations do say that there are other pollinating insects, the spotlight seems to be focused on the honeybee. The thing is, while honeybees are very important pollinators, there are also other important species of bees and even other insects in need of saving and attention that do not get it.

Good For Agriculture, Bad For The Environment

The authors note that some of the efforts have nothing to do with conservation at all but are, in fact, agriculture in nature because of the species' importance in pollination and honey production. However, farmed or "managed" honeybees have a tendency to harm their environment. For instance, honeybees have been linked to the spread of disease to wild pollinators by sharing flowers, and may even affect the reproduction of wildflowers and plants.

Furthermore, having honeybees in unnaturally massive numbers leads to a competition for resources with the wild pollinators. Also, with the sheer density of the honey bees' numbers, the wild pollinators have a harder time surviving.

Basically, while the agricultural practices concerning honey bees opened the conversation, the current spotlight on the honey bee can also cause an imbalance in the environment they are moving in.

Balanced Environment

To be clear, the authors are not saying that the efforts to save the honey bees should be halted. In fact, they do state that the western honey bee is the single most important crop pollinating species.

Perhaps what they mean is that as with most things, there must be a balance in the conservation efforts so as not to saturate the wild with a single species of pollinator. Instead, letting a variety of pollinators, both wild and managed, have their own equal parts in the process.

Dr. Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota's Bee Lab, one of the country's notable bee researchers, seems to share the concerns of the authors. She states that it was the concern for honeybees that opened the portal to conservation issues, but that she prefers not to pit one bee against another.

"I would prefer to live on a planet where there are bountiful flowers to support all of our bees," says Spivak.

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