Overview of Feral and Managed Honeybees in Australia

Distribution, Abundance, Extent of Interactions with Native Biota, Evidence of Impacts and Future Research
David C Paton, Department of Zoology, The University of Adelaide
for Australian Nature Conservation Agency
Environment Australia, May 1996
ISBN 0 6422 1381 X

1. Introduction

Since the late 1970s there has been growing concern amongst conservationists, ecologists and land managers that the presence of honeybees in conservation areas may conflict with the primary purpose of those reserves - the conservation of Australia's endemic flora and fauna. Honeybees may outcompete native fauna for floral resources, may disrupt natural pollination processes and may displace endemic-wildlife from tree hollows. Numerous authors have presented arguments for and against the need to exclude honeybees from conservation areas (Matthews 1984; Bell 1987; Thorp 1987; Hopper 1987; Stace 1988; Manning 1989, 1993a; Anderson 1989; Pyke 1990; Paton 1993). The lack of consensus reflects the biases of individual contributors and the dearth of good quality research on interactions between honeybees and Australian biota. That some of the initial research on impacts has been equivocal has not helped (Pyke and Balzer 1985; Sugden and Pyke 1991). Most reviews, however, have concluded that differences of opinion will only be resolved with further research.

This report summarises and critically reviews research on the impacts of honeybees on Australian flora and fauna, and recommends the future research needed to develop effective management strategies for honeybees in the Australian environment. A key issue in this process is to separate the impacts of feral honeybees on Australian biota from those of commercially-managed honeybees.

The review has four parts. The first part examines information on the distribution, abundance and behaviour of both feral and managed colonies of honeybees in Australia. Subsequent parts summarise and assess evidence on interactions between honeybees and Australian biota, the management of honeybees in Australia, and possibilities for future research.