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Australia has native bees - why keep European Bees in Australia?

We have been asked the question why beekeepers had to import European Honeybees to Australia as there are already over 1,600 species of native bees in Australia.

We don't claim to have the right answers but here are a few thoughts.

Many thanks to Anne Dollin from Aussie Bee for her contributions about Australian native bees!

Most of the food plants for us and our animal stock, like Broccoli, Carrots, Peas, Beans, Blueberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Strawberries, Cherries, Almonds, Apples, Apricots, Pears, Sunflowers, Canola, Cucumber, Pumpkins, Melons, Zucchini etc. have been introduced to Australia by the European settlers. These plants do not naturally occur in Australia.

European Honeybees are the natural pollinators for these crops as well as for the flowers we have also imported, therefore they are best suited for pollinating these plants.

Although Australian Native Bees can be found in most of Australia's diverse habitats, not all of them are suitable for crop pollination as they are not living in large colonies, most native bees are solitary bees.

As we grow our crops in large concentrated areas we also need large numbers of pollinating bees in those areas when required, which can only bee achieved when larger bee colonies, kept in beehives, can be transported.

Australian Stingless Bees
Of the 1,600 species of wild bees native to Australia about 14 species are stingless.

Some Stingless Bees have been "cultivated", i.e. kept in boxes which can be brought to the fields for pollination. Australian Stingless Bees however live only in the warmer climates and the number of hives being kept by beekeepers at present is limited.

Stingless bees are starting to be used for crop pollination of crops such as Macadamia and Avocado in Queensland and northern NSW.
However, the vast majority of crop pollination in Australia is currently done by European honeybees.

Native Australian stingless bees are under threat from human development.
Bob the Bee Man aims to rescue and relocate colonies of the stingless native bees of Australia - his website is especially for tree loppers and vegetation management workers, firewood cutters, earthmoving contractors, timber getters of all types and the farming community.

You find good information on Australia's Stingless Bees in an ABC Science article from 11-Sep-2009 "Stingless bee rescue".

Blue-banded bee - Amegilla cingulata
Blue-banded bees (Amegilla cingulata) are native to Australia and are solitary insects. They are eye-catching because of their shimmering blueish colour and because they can often be seen hovering over a flower. They typically build their nests in sandstone, mud or the mortar-gaps in the brickwork of houses.
Native Blue-banded Bee
There has been a research program at the University of Adelaide working on the utilisation of native blue banded bees for pollination of greenhouse tomatoes. Unfortunately funding for the project ceased at the end of 2009 and it has not led to commercial implementation. This seems disappointing, but it has to be remembered that the research needed to make these solitary bees work inside a greenhouse covers a large range of issues.  The development of the breeding program for bumblebees in Europe took twenty years and involved multiple research groups.

Honey Production in comparison
And then there is the honey; mankind has had an interest in European Honeybees for thousands of years for their honey. As the honeybees originate from cooler climates they have developed the ability to gather and store great amounts of honey during the warm season to survive through the cold season. Bees from warm climates store very little honey if at all. And what is the reward for beekeeping without the honey?

The Australian stingless bees only store about 1 kg of honey per year in their hives. A small niche industry is starting in Australia with this tangy 'Sugarbag' honey. However, the stingless bees cannot produce enough honey to supply Australia's large scale commercial needs. In comparison, in a good year here in Australia European Honeybees store a surplus of 70 to 100 kg honey in their hive. (World record is over 300 kg)

Australian Native Bees in the news

Environment rubs off on stingless bees - ABC Science, 8-May-2013
The environment has an unexpectedly strong effect on stingless bees, a new study shows.

Native Bees - ABC creature features, 16-Jul-2007
Everyone knows honey comes from honey bees and that they live in big hives and sting you if you get too close right? But did you know that Australia actually has over 1500 species of native bees, some of them stingless bees?

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