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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Other problems for bees

Like all animals, honey bees are subject to a range of misadventures that are not easy to place into a single category for discussion. These problems may vary widely and arise from the various ecological and cultural conditions under which bees are kept. Some are more easily dealt with than others, but many of these difficulties relate to things beyond the beekeeper's individual control e.g. theft or vandalism. Under these circumstances, it can be helpful to have support from other beekeepers in the community as part of a beekeepers association or group that can lobby for more consideration, or educate others about the value of beekeeping to the wider community. Politicians and influential people that control resources (such as land) need to know about the value of bees - for crop pollination, for income generation and for increased economic activity in the area.

Habitat destruction and the consequent loss of forage sources is one of the major causes of a decline in bee populations. Loss of forests to charcoal burning and urban development, destruction of wildflower meadows and widespread use of pesticides reduces the honey and wax that can be collected, and reduced pollination affects crop yields. The planting of large areas with only one crop means that flowers are available all at the same time of year, thereby creating a 'honey bee desert' for the rest of the year. The loss of forage, or reduced seasonal spread of forage availability, will affect colony productivity and survival. Lack of colonisation of hives by swarms of bees can be an indicator that the natural resources of an area are being threatened.

Theft and vandalism can sometimes be a problem for beekeepers especially if hives are kept a long distance from the homestead. Honey bee colonies can be deliberately damaged or destroyed, or the resources they need, such as the trees they are placed in, are taken for other purposes. This commonly occurs as a consequence of competition for resources. It is not easy to tackle this and it can only be done by co-operative discussion with those that are causing the problem. Sometime theft can be reduced by making the hives less attractive. For instance, hives made of local materials not only reduce the costs of investment to the beekeeper but are also less tempting to steal than hives made of good wood that can be used for other purposes.

Over harvesting and poor management of the bees by can have a profound effect on their productivity. A beekeeper who does not leave enough food to sustain the bees' own life after harvesting may lose the colony entirely. Care of the apiary site is also important. Invasion by ants, absconding and lack of colonisation in productive beekeeping areas are all indicators that the bees may not have been sufficiently attended by the beekeeper. Bush fire can also create a problem for beekeepers. Tropical bees respond to this and other setbacks by absconding. The beekeeper can reduce the risk of fire by clearing undergrowth around the hives and where possible creating or planting fire breaks, e.g. of vetiver grass.

The relationship between the seasonal development of the bees, the flowering of the plants they feed from and the weather are critical to colony productivity. Large stocks of bees can die of starvation in adverse weather conditions because the energy income into the hive does not match their food requirements. Excessive rainfall can prevent bees from reaching the flowers even though there is plenty of nectar; conversely high temperatures and drought (so water is not available for cooling the combs) can lead to melting of the wax honeycomb. Putting out shallow troughs filled with water for the bees may help to prevent the latter problem.

It is not yet clear what the consequences of climate change will be for the bees worldwide. There may be catastrophic events such as floods and droughts where all the colonies throughout whole areas perish. Conversely there may be more subtle shifts in climate bringing altered weather patterns that are not conducive to the honey bees seasonal cycles. For instance, if there are unusual changes in patterns of rainfall, heat or drought that prevent the bees from foraging for nectar at critical times then honey bee populations could collapse.

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