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Honey Bees Have a Dirty Secret

Honey bee on plant

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Although honey bees symbolize prosperity, sustainability and environmentalism, and are vital to farmers, they also have a distressing effect on the environment—destabilizing natural ecosystems by competing with native bees. Thousands of beekeeping hobbyists and campaigns to save the bees provide honey bees much more media coverage than native pollinators. High densities of honey bee colonies increase competition with the native pollinators for forage, putting even more pressure on the wild species that are already in decline. Honey bees are extremely general foragers and monopolize floral resources, leading to exploitative competition where one species uses up a resource, not leaving enough to go around.

Sheila Colla, an assistant professor and conservation biologist at Toronto’s York University, tells Scientific American, “Beekeeping is for people; it’s not a conservation practice. People mistakenly think keeping honey bees, or helping honey bees, is somehow helping the native bees, which are at risk of extinction. The focus on neonics [pesticide] and honey bees has taken a ton of resources away from conserving wild pollinators from their most important threats.”

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