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Environmental Impacts of the Asian Honey Bee

Client: Department of Sustainability, Environment, Population, Water and Communities

Sustineo was engaged by the Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Population, Water and Communities to review the current scientific literature to determine what is known about the possible impacts of Asian honeybees (Apis cerana) on the Australian environment.  This review will provide information for decision-makers and policy officers seeking to influence environmental biosecurity.

Four key questions guided the review:
1)    What do we know about Apis cerana – as a species, and in terms of their distribution, ecology, biology and incursion into Australia to date?
2)    What do we know about other bees ecology, biology, etc?
3)    What do we know about Apis mellifera impacts on Australian environments?
4)    How do the species compare/interact and what can we learn about the comparison regarding potential impacts of Apis cerana on Australian environments?

The review found that the impact of exotic honeybees (Apis mellifera and Bombus terrestris) on the Australian environment is comparatively poorly understood in relation to their (positive) impact on productivity and agriculture. Feral honeybee impacts on Australian ecosystems are controversial but may include competition with native fauna for floral resources or nesting sites, inadequate pollination of native flora or undesirable pollination of exotic flora.

There is very little (if any) published evidence of the environmental impact of Apis cerana. In Asia, where the species has been established for thousands of years, it is not labelled as an invasive species and therefore its environmental ‘impact’ has not been questioned. Given the invasion is relatively recent and there are no published studies of its environmental impact to date, actual impact of A. cerana on the Australian environment can therefore only be assessed given the (limited) data and careful observations of experienced field officers. However, sufficient is known about Australian plant and animal communities to safely state that it is false to suggest Apis cerana will never have negative effects on nature conservation, just as it is false to suggest that they will have serious negative impacts in all circumstances.

Adherence to the precautionary principle around management of Apis cerana was recommended.
One key area for future research is to determine where and when the risk of negative environmental impact from Apis cerana is highest such that limited resources are directed to areas of maximum return.