Here’s another one from the bee man, Tobias Smith (PhD candidate at the University of Queensland). Tobias recently blogged about bee basics here on ConservationBytes.com (something I highly recommend for anyone interested on brushing up on bee facts and dispelling a few myths), so I asked him to follow up with this very important piece on the future of pollination in Australia. It concerns a nasty little invader recently dubbed the “flying cane toad” (not my analogy).
Over the last few weeks there has been much media attention given to the Asian honeybee (Apis cerana) incursion in far north Queensland. The Asian honeybee was first detected near Cairns in May 2007. Since then an effort to eradicate the bee has been made. This peaked during 2010, when over 40 bee eradication personnel were employed to hunt and destroy in areas around Cairns, the Atherton Tablelands, and other nearby locations.
In late January this year, the committee established to manage the eradication program (governments and industry), decided to pull the plug on eradication efforts (on money to pay for efforts that is). They decided it was no longer possible to achieve eradication (a majority decision, not a unanimous decision). The position to stop resources for eradication is not supported by industry, or ecological commentators. Arguments have been made that this is the only window of opportunity for eradication (for ever!), and that more resources need to be put towards it now, while there is still a chance of success.
A few points to be made about the Asian honeybee in Australia:
- Over 340 colonies have been found since the original incursion in 2007 (mostly after 2009).
- Based on the Asian honeybee’s native range, it has the potential to survive in most parts of Australia.
- Being a cavity nester, the Asian honeybee will compete for nesting sites with native stingless bees, birds, and mammals (much as the Western honeybee (Apis mellifera) does already).
- The bee is a little bit smaller, and behaves in a slightly different manner than the Western honeybee, so might compete with native fauna differently at floral resources.
- Asian bees are believed to be less efficient as crop pollinators than Western honeybees, and are also known to rob Western honeybee hives of honey.
- Industry is worried about the Asian honeybee competing with managed Western honeybee colonies.
There is also much concern about Asian honeybees being the natural carrier of the Varroa mite (which it is). However, some interesting points to be made on this are:
In early 2010 I was informed that all colonies that had been destroyed were genetic descendants from the first 2007 colony. Thus, this has all resulted from a single incursion. None of the nests found yet have been positive for Varroa, which is unsurprising because the original colony was not a carrier. I think the real Varroa worry comes if this Asian honeybee incursion does establish in Australia, as it will then be harder to detect subsequent incursions, which may carry Varroa. As I have stated on ConservationBytes.com previously, Varroa only affects Apis cerana and Apis mellifera. It is potentially fatal only to Apis mellifera.
There have been comments made about this being the next cane toad or rabbit for Australia. Who knows, but it will certainly have a major impact. It will certainly be very bad for biodiversity, and it will probably be bad for agriculture. ONLY $3 million has been spent on the Asian honeybee eradication program so far.
Those to make demands to about putting resources towards further eradication efforts are: Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, as well as any local members, and State and Territory politicians, in all States and Territories.