Density of invasive western honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies in fragmented woodlands indicates potential for large impacts on native species

Saul A. Cunningham*, Mason J. Crane, Maldwyn J. Evans, Kassel L. Hingee, David B. Lindenmayer

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    13 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Feral Apis mellifera colonies are widespread globally and cause ecological impacts as pollinators and competitors for food and nesting opportunities. The magnitude of impact depends on their population density, but knowledge of this density is poor. We document feral A. mellifera colonies at 69 per km2 in fragmented Eucalyptus woodlands in Australia, exceeding estimates from elsewhere in the world, and matched only by one other Australian study. We surveyed 52.5 ha of woodland patches with 357 nest boxes installed to provide nesting opportunities for threatened vertebrates. Our sites covered a region of more than 140 km across with repeated surveys over 3 to 6 years. We show that nest box use by feral A. mellifera colonies is influenced by box design (p = 0.042), with weak evidence for an interactive effect of type of vegetation at a site (woodland remnants vs. replanting) and woody cover within 500 m (p = 0.091). At 69 colonies per km2, this density is equivalent to the recommended stocking of hives for pollination of some crops and is therefore likely to influence pollination and lead to competition with other flower visitors. Apis mellifera is also likely to be competing for hollows with cavity dependent native fauna, especially in landscapes where there has been extensive tree removal.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number3603
    JournalScientific Reports
    Volume12
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

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