Urban beekeeping has become almost as prolific as the news stories which predict the downfall of mankind as bees vanish from the planet. Thus as populations of rural bees have mysteriously crashed the rise in urban beekeeping was predicted by some to be the oncoming saviour from this crisis.
Yet researchers from North Carolina State University have discovered that this rising hobby is not making up for the declining rural populations as urban bees struggle to survive . By studying 15 feral colonies living in trees or buildings without human contact and a further 24 managed by beekeepers in urban, suburban and rural areas in and around the city of Raleigh researchers were able to ascertain urban bees are 3 x less likely to survive than their rural counterparts.
This is due to higher levels of disease. Colonies closer to urban areas had higher levels of disease due to higher prevalences of bacteria and viruses as well as increased transmission. Professor David Tarpy of North Carolina State University claims that the increased rates of transmission “might be because bee colonies have fewer feeding sites to choose from in urban areas, so they are interacting with more bees from other colonies.” Alternatively it could be the result of higher temperatures.
The decline of bees across the planet has caused alarm amongst environmentalists as without them humans would struggle to pollinate a huge range of their food sources. Although the causes of the dramatic decline is widely unknown a range of factors are thought to be responsible including habitat loss.
Since World War 2 an increase in intensive farming has led to a direct decrease in areas which contain wildflowers for bees. Professor Ratnieks of the University of Sussex reviewed the popularity of urban beekeeping in 2013 and found that it may be more useful to plant more pollinator friendly flowers in urban areas than creating more hives. If you are to increase the number of urban hives you must make sure that there is enough food to sustain them and often the green areas in urban zones have very few flowers for bees and other pollinators.
He stated; “If the problem is not enough flowers, increasing the number of hives risks making that problem worse. The honey bee is just one of many insect species which feed on nectar and pollen. Having a high density of honey bee hives is not only bad for honey bees, but may also affect bumblebees and other species feeding on the same flowers. If a game park was short of food for elephants, you wouldn’t introduce more elephants, so why should we take this approach with bees?”
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