21 February 2019
Sinai wild bees under threat
Published online 26 February 2018
Scientists warn against the negative impact of honeybees’ introduction on wild bees and native plants in South Sinai.
In the highlands of St. Catherine in South Sinai, walled plots of greenery dot an otherwise rocky landscape, harboring a rich variety of trees and native plants attracting migratory birds and wild pollinators.
Scientists have recorded 67 species of wild, native bees in South Sinai, and while they are impressively efficient pollinators of native plants and trees, they don’t produce honey. Thirty years ago, to generate additional income from these gardens, Bedouin farmers introduced honeybees.
A team of scientists from Anglia Ruskin University and Nottingham University have for years been monitoring the impact of introducing the species to South Sinai. In a new paper in the journal Diversity and Distributions, the researchers warn that native biodiversity is at risk.
“When honeybees are introduced, they become highly abundant and make up a quarter of all plants’ visits,” says Olivia Norfolk, corresponding author. They are a highly social species and exhibit a generalized foraging behavior, visiting as much as 55% of all available plants.
“Although it sounds like a good thing, we know that honeybees are much less efficient pollinators than wild bees, which is having a negative impact on native plants’ reproduction,” the scientist explains.
A Bedouin farmer once complained to Norfolk that honeybees were stealing all the pollens from his trees. “He might not have been entirely wrong, because their ineffectiveness as pollinators on almond trees have shown to produce lesser yields,” she says.
This high concentration of the inefficient pollinators in South Sinai’s resource-limited environment is straining wild bees, especially in periods of droughts. The resource overlap and competition has decreased the native bee populations, which usually play a crucial role in range-restricted plants’ survival.
“It won’t endanger the plants that already exist,” explains Norfolk, but inefficient pollination by honeybees will stymie their ability to produce seeds and reproduce. “Economic benefits associated with honey production must be balanced against the negative impacts to endemic plant species.”
Sherif Baha el-Din, one of Egypt’s leading conservationists, says that this study clearly illustrates that human interference in natural processes have far-reaching implications well beyond the comprehension of politicians and decision makers. “This is why scientists must be part of the planning process, particularly for mega projects that will have huge impacts on local environment,” he adds.
The conservationist says that at the very least, a moratorium on introducing any further bees into the highlands should be put in place, and that some of the beehives in higher altitudes should be removed.
Clearing out honeybees in South Sinai, however, could be a relatively straightforward operation, according to Norfolk. “Because they are not native to South Sinai, honeybees would not be able to survive St Catherine’s harsh winters unless they are managed and fed sugar solutions,” she says.
- Norfolk, O. et al. Alien honeybees increase pollination risks for range-restricted plants. Diversity and Distributions. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ddi.12715 (2018)