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Impacts Of Invasive Alien Species On Honey Bees

Impacts Of Invasive Alien Species On  Honey Bees

By Writuparna Dutta, Shayan Sarkar, Chayan Biswas and Puja Ray (Multitrophic Interactions and Biocontrol Research Laboratory, Department of Life Sciences, Presidency University)

Keywords: Invasive species, weeds, pesticides, pollination


One of the major consequences of globalization is that it has weighted the ecological footprint of human activities around the world. In addition to people and products moving across the globe, wildlife has been transported as well. And several of these organisms have become invasive in the newly introduced range. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN 2000) defined invasive alien species as “an alien species which becomes established in natural or semi-natural ecosystems or habitat, as an agent of change, that threatens native biological diversity.” Such species may include wide range of organisms from microorganisms to insects, plants and animals. Biological invasions are second most dangerous threat for global biodiversity after habitat destructions.

An alien or non-native species may be introduced intentionally or accidentally -outside its native range. Invasive alien species (IAS) may have far-reaching and harmful effects on the environment and natural resources for generations; i.e. out competing or predating native species that have evolved without specific adaptations to cope with them. Non native species dominate some wild type ecosystems and can disturb function and composition of local ecosystem altering the evolutionary pathway of native species . Biological invasions of alien species results in habitat change, loss and fragmentation of the native species.

A key ecosystem service that has the potential to be interrupted by the arrival of novel species is pollination. Bees, not only help by providing honey and wax, are arguably the most important pollinator group having both economic and ecological values. Threats to wild bees have been more widely studied than impacts on other pollinator taxa. Habitat change, loss and fragmentation associated with agricultural intensification are thought to pose the main risks to native bees. However, the impacts of IAS on native bees are far from clear . We lack knowledge as to the extent at which alien invasions affect population density of bee species, and about how alien invasions affect composition of pollinator communities at different spatial and temporal scales. There are both direct and indirect effects of invasive alien species on honey bees. These effects may be lethal or sub-lethal altering the physiological and behavioral activities of this social insect as well as the properties of honey bee products like honey and wax.

Impacts Of Invasive Alien Plants On Honey Bees

Non-native, alien invasive plant species are known to have adverse effect on ecosystem they invade causing biodiversity loss and changes in the ecosystem functioning. Invasive plant infestations are common in virtually every terrestrial ecosystem on earth, mostly being introduced either accidentally or as ornamental plants. Invasive plants have often been associated as potential driver of bee decline. Due to their massive floral display, prolific nectar production, and often appearing at high density, the invasive plants are often very attractive for bees and hence profusely pollinated. To be utilized by native bees, the alien plants must have morphological accessibility and nutritional rewards. Flowers of the scarlet sage Salvia splendens Sellow ex Schult., native to Brazil but invasively growing in British Isles, produce copious nectar, which is concealed deep within long corolla tubes, making it difficult for native bees to access the nectar. Alternatively, invasive alien flowers could require some specific handling skills that native bees do not possess, as seen in native bees in Tasmania, which are unable to manipulate the flowers of invasive alien tree lupin Lupinus arboreus Sims because the latter require large, powerful bees to expose stamens and stigma, and native halictid bees in Florida are unable to buzz pollinate the flowers of invasive alien turkey berry Solanum torvum Sw because of their inability to sonicate anthers. In these cases, the invasive alien plant species are avoided by native bees as they do not act as a useful food resource. Invasive alien plant rewards are not beneficial to native bees, but even detrimental to them, they can have the opposite impact. Common rhodo-dendron Rhododendron ponticum L. contain grayanotoxins which cause poisoning in humans19 are deterred by honey bees. The nectar of these IAS has also proved to be toxic to the bees. Variation in the protein content of pollen of different species affects the pollen foraging behavior of honey bees. A negative feedback on specialist pollinator, which are mainly dependent on certain species of plants, operates due to pollination limitation to only specialized native plants, although few plant pollinator interactions are tightly specialized to create widespread problems. Generalist native pollinators that are able to utilize the resources of invasive alien plants may support native plant communities but they usually promote further invasion of the alien plant species. For example alien plants Impatiens glandulifera Royal helps native bumblebees as additional source of nutrition.

Impacts Of Invasive Alien Insects On Honey Bees

Ecological impacts are mediated by competition for resources, transmission of pathogens, and reproductive disruption via inter-specific mating with native congeners. The accidental or deliberate introduction of some invasive insect can decimate ecosystem, crop production or even our homes. Competition for limited resources between invasive alien insects and native honey bees might occur at frequent rates that affect the diversity of native honey bees. There is a mostly negative effect of alien insects on native honey bees . In addition, invasive insects which cause a change in the native plant community structure could cause further indirect impacts on native bees. Russo reviewed about 80 species of introduced bee species. Mellifera is one of the species that have been introduced most widely, frequently and in higher numbers than any other taxon and currently, it is the most widely distributed alien pollinator in the world , being present in all continents except Antarctica. Invasive alien bees gain resources more efficiently than native bees. . As is the case with invasive alien plants, invasive alien social bees have been introduced intentionally for pollination purposes and are associated strongly with anthropized and highly disturbed habitats, which facilitates invasion and makes assessment for ecological impact difficult. With the intrusion of the alien species, niche overlapping is an inevitable occurrence, leaving a negative effect on the native species’ population and resources partitioning. While listing the negative impacts the non-native bees have on the ecosystem, Russo advocates that non-native bees compete with the native bees for both nesting and foraging sites thus changing the structure of native pollination network. They increase the invasiveness of the weeds by intense pollination and are often vectors of pathogens and parasites. In France due to the introduction of Africanized honey bees near nectar source, a decline of the population size of native honey bees was observed . However, they are valuable because they create a scenario of potential competition. Invasive alien insects can change the native plant diversity by pollinating alien plants which indirectly affects the native honey bees. Invasive alien bees are more efficient in the acquisition of resources than many native counterparts. If resource overlap is substantial and alien bees gather resources more efficiently, they have the potential to displace native bees due to depleting common nectar sources. Dupont et al. observed that in the Canary Island, invasive honey bees stayed longer and visited more flowers per inflorescence than native bees, depleting nectar in red bug loss Echium wildpretii H.Pearson ex Hook.f., suppressing visitation by native animals due to exploitative competition. When resources distribution is depleting with intrusion of invading species, competition for nesting sites are also noteworthy. Bombus. Terrestris L. queens use nest sites that are similar to those used by native Bombus specie in different invaded regions but very less information hints at the requirement of more research in nest competition of honey bees. One of the major problems with the invasive insects is the spread of pathogens and diseases to the native honey bees. With the importation of commercial bee colonies, intrusion of exotic parasites and pathogens is thought to be one of the biggest source. Pathogens spread between native and invasive bees while foraging on the same flowers Varroa destructor Anderson & Trueman is a pathogen that has spread from Apis cerana Fabricius to A. mellifera. But there is a serious gap in our knowledge about the reproductive effects, geographical distribution, epidemiology and evolutionary ecology of most pathogens which needs to be filled up with proper research. Not only intrusion of pathogens, but importation of bee colonies have resulted in breakage of reproductive barrier, leading to hybridisation, causing ingression of alleles in the native species.

Effect Of Pesticide On Honey Bees

Over the last two decades, as major colony losses were repeatedly reported worldwide, honey bee health has been an issue of growing concern for beekeepers, scientists, and the general public. One of the major reasons behind loss of honey bee colonies around the globe have been increase in use of pesticides for the control of wide range of invasive species. Several social insects like ant, wasp and honey bees are the common invaders around the world. After invasion to non-native habitat they become pests by damaging crops and disturbing the local habitat. To control these pests, lots of pesticides is used in crop fields. As honey bees are the natural pollinator of crops there is a high chance of getting exposed to repeated use of chemical pesticides. Many pesticides decrease fitness and foraging success in honey bees. Exposure of neonicotinoid systemic pesticide increases the death rate of foraging honey bees due to homing failure and abnormal foraging activity. Sub-lethal doses of deltamethrin also reports on increasing the time of the homing-flight in A. mellifera. Pesticides introduced during apiculture affect the quality of honey and wax produced by honey bees. Poquet et al , advocates that honey bees are exposed to a fast paced, unprecedented global environmental changes which can cause notable physiological changes within a few days. These factors can strongly impact the bee response to pesticides.


Most countries are grappling with complex and costly invasive species problems. The annual environmental losses caused by introduced pests in the United States United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, India and Brazil have been calculated at over US$ 100 billion Addressing the problem of invasive alien species is urgent because the threat is growing daily, and the economic and environmental impacts are severe. It is clear that invasive alien species have mostly negative effects on native honey bees. When intrusion of invasive flowering plants leaves as positive effect as an additional source of nectar for the pollinators, it negatively impacts the native plant population for the intense competition for ecological niche. And as no species lives solitarily, the interaction between all species should be maintained with a perfect balance, rather than allowing only one species to dominate in cost of others. Proper predictions of impacts not just on species, but on entire plant pollinator-parasite communities, ecosystem services is necessary for ecosystem functioning, avoiding the use of chemicals whose introduction biomagnifies at every trophic level.


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