Monday, January 24, 2011

Plight of the Bumble Bee (and Others!)

The Bees were still looking good in the Caucasus - Photo by German Esipov
Too Few Bees 
How are your bees? Bees have been in mysterious decline in many parts of the world especially in the USA and Europe.  Although it has not been officially confirmed, it is believed that  a particular group of pesticides called neonicotinoids are responsible.  It is certainly apparent that in those countries where these pesticides have been banned - France, Germany and Italy, the bees are making a recovery 

Bees don't just produce honey. They are the world's major plant pollinators including most of the ones we eat.
Aavez is calling on the US and the UN to ban these these pesticides too, so click on this link to add your voice.






Another pretty picture, but like the rabbits and Salvation Jane in the Mallee, looks can be deceiving. 
Too Many Bees?
Have the bees all come to Tasmania? It may look like it, but they are the wrong ones. I was  really shocked when I took this picture that there were now so many bumble bees (Bombus terrestris). I saw my first one when I first came back to Hobart in 1997,  but today they far outnumbered the small Tasmanian bees  and even the European honey bees by about twenty to one. I have also just read an article which confims that they are now found throughout Tasmania in every type of vegetation and at every altitude after being accidentally introduced in 1992.
Although welcomed by farmers and especially tomato growers (see the ABC story about farmers wanting to introduce it on the mainland) because of its ability to produce bigger yields, it is rapidly displacing the tiny Tasmanian bees many of which are specially adapted to small native plants which may die out if the bees are unable to compete for nectar and pollen against the larger European ones.
Many of our plants, birds and animals exist nowhere else, not even on the mainland and some, such as  the Swift parrot which compete for the same food, are already endangered, so this is not a good sign and shows how quickly introduced species can take over in a place where they have no natural enemies (See the article What Harm Could Exotic Bumble Bees do in Australia)
Although the European honey bee was introduced much earlier (and we will never know at what cost to native flora and fauna), it too is at risk from new imports which may also bring new diseases. While I sympathise with farmers having to compete against cheaper imported vegetables, honey production has long been an important  and well established industry in Tasmania too and should not be put at risk for a few dollars more in someone's pocket.

PS. I spoke with Daryl Connell, of The Tasmanian Honey Company yesterday and was pleased to hear that so far honey production has not been affected in Tasmania, though as he adds "...
 though this is difficult to measure, given the other contributing factors such as climate, geography etc."


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