Australia is home to over 1,600 species of named, native bee species as well as honeybee populations (which are not native but were introduced to Australia by early European settlers). These native and honeybee bee populations are vitally important pollinators for a variety of agricultural crops as well native flora. Unfortunately, these bee populations have been threatened due to a loss of habitat through deforestation, land clearing for development, pesticide use, and even parasitic mites and disease.
Native Bees Attacked on All Sides
These bee threatening human activities, though important for economic development and growth, cause an ecological disturbance that can actually begin to cause a reverse effect and eventually result in economic damage. This is especially true for the agricultural sectors, where native Australian bees and European honey bees are relied upon heavily for effective pollination.
These pollinators are critical to the proper growth of vegetable and fruit food supplies and their decline in population can and will affect local, regional, and even global food production. Additionally, within more urban areas, local and native fauna still rely heavily upon the native bee population to flourish, despite the plantings not resulting in food production. Preservation of native and honey bee species is, therefore, vital to maintaining their critical role in ecological and agricultural cycles.
Keith Naylor - Native Bee RescueIs Our Dedicated Bee Rescue Partner
When discussing animal rescue and relocation, one’s mind naturally gravitates toward the rescue of tree inhabiting mammals, reptiles, birds, etc., but land clearing and deforestation have a resounding effect on insect populations, and of particular importance, native bee populations.
Australia is home to over 1,600 species of native bee as well as feral European introduced honey bee populations. As with most other species within Australia, the number one threat to native and honeybee populations is habitat destruction through means of deforestation, land clearing, and site development for agricultural and urban development.
Though it may not be readily apparent, these native and honeybee populations are a crucial aspect of Australia’s biodiversity and ecology.
Without these bee populations, especially honey bees, cross-pollination of both native plants and agricultural crops is limited and devastating effects on produce production and native flora growth can occur.
Kind Human Intervention
In recent years, public interest in the preservation of the native bee populations in Australia has risen and has seen a successful increase in preservation efforts. Homeowners, farmers, and commercial builders alike have begun to join the conservation effort, which requires little in the way of individual capital to be successful.
Bee species require only three basic needs to thrive: A plentiful food source, safe and abundant nesting sites, and protection from harmful pesticides. Homeowners and farm owners alike can assist in the preservation and creation of bee habitats by providing these three basic needs.
This strengthens not only bee health and numbers, but also increases cross-pollination, thereby increasing the yields of agricultural industries.
Plantings are most beneficial when flowering periods are extensive and provided throughout the year.
There are, in fact, planting guides available for use by individuals and land management authorities which provide detailed insights into the preferred floral species necessary to improve bee populations. These references combined with a concerted public effort are the first steps to improving diminished food sources for these insects.
Specific Environment Needed for Native Bees
Native bees also require a safe habitat in which to nest. Every bee species’ nesting preference is slightly different; however, most are solitary and prefer nests in standing dead trees and undisturbed soil banks. This is quite different from European honey bees, which are known for their colonized honeycomb nests and are farmed for their honey resources.
Provision of protected native bee habitats is increasingly important due to the European honey bee’s susceptibility to the Varroa mite, which kills honey bees and destroys their populations. In this regard, native bee populations must step up to fill the pollination void for their immigrant counterparts.
The public effort to minimize land clearing and soil disturbance activities is paramount to ensuring abundant nesting options for native bees. When these development activities are required, certain steps can be performed to ensure the native bees have a new home upon completion of the development.
These steps parallel the floral plantings noted above for both urban and rural areas in that green space should be made available and worked on the larger land and site planning scope. Setting aside these areas of green space and protecting existing riparian zones are all effective in maintaining the ecosystem of native bee species.
What “Mites” be the Problem?
It goes without much explanation, the use of pesticides is detrimental to native bee populations, especially in and around agricultural areas where their use is more concentrated and commonplace. Minimizing pesticide use on crops during periods of flowering is paramount to avoiding killing these necessary insects.
When insecticide use is necessary during flowering periods, it is important to be aware of wind direction and use spot spraying methods to avoid overexposure to large bee populations. It may also be beneficial to provide heavily flowered areas away from fields which receive pesticides to offset any damaging pesticide use.
There are additional resources which can help identify pesticides that are not as poisonous to bees. Additionally, pesticide chemical labels are beginning to indicate if the product is a danger to bees and often includes the best practices necessary to ensure safe application to minimize the effect on bee populations.
These simple provisions along with a combined public effort and interest in preserving native bee habitats are critical to maintaining the delicate and important role of native bees within the Australian ecosystem. This is especially important while the European honey bee is under attack by the Varroa mite.
The European honey bee travels greater distances than native Australian bees for nectar, which results in crop pollination across a large area. It is important, then to encourage local populations of native bees to be preserved around agricultural areas while the European honey bees are under attack from the Varroa mite.
Further public education will assist in breeding the interest and activism necessary to protect and provide for these important insects within Australia’s greater ecology.