Invasive Species: Are They Naughty or Nice?

Flower Illustration

In the very first episode of Portlandia, Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen poke fun at the Pacific Northwest, hipster mentality. If your food isn’t prepared and eaten locally, that’s not cool man. Thoughtfully sourced food is all the buzz these days and in this case, free-range “native” chicken meat is better if it comes from a home rather than a cage.

So what is all the buzz about and what is considered local?

Even though the two comedians tease the hipp-ie/ster lifestyle, there are environmentally sustainable pros to this idea of “local”. However, local is nice for those who can afford it, but maybe not so practical for global hunger. Considering there are over 7 billion people living on the planet, large scale food production is entirely necessary. Maybe one day it won’t be so freaky.

So all this talk about going local got me thinking about the question “is it native?”.

Today I’ll explore: Are non-native honey bees good or bad for the environment?

For millennia honey bees have maintained an integral part of our daily lives, humans have been domesticating honey bees since the building of the Egyptian pyramids. Why wouldn’t we keep bees? If you think about it, a beehive is the ultimate tool to survive an apocalyptic setting. The hive yields a surplus of handy supplies. Wax for candles and cosmetics, honey for cooking and booze, propolis and honey for medicinal purposes, honey and even bees as food.

In 2006 we first heard about the plight of the honeybee and the devastating effects of Colony Collapse Disorder. What came to follow were great efforts to save them and for everyone to acknowledge the threat of a bee-less world. Both empty and colourless, it would suck.

Fact: Honey bees ARE on the decline. I see it every year.

Colony Collapse Disorder is not a singular disorder. Collapse of a colony is caused by a combination of things; disease within the hive, inadequate food sources, baron landscapes and disease infested monocrops riddled with pesticides.

More recently the media has been focusing on honey bees as an invasive species and asking if honey bees are bad for native populations?

Some conservation biologists think invasive honey bees are negative to our environment.

The negative associations might be that honey bees compete with native fauna for floral resources or nesting sites, produce inadequate pollination of native flora or apply undesirable pollination of exotic flora, hybridization of plant and animal species and finally, the potential of disease transmission.

However, the studies were only conducted in problematic locations. Debaters call the studies UNQUANTIFIED.

In the future, in-depth studies on the ecological impact should help give the public more insight into the real pros and cons of it all.

If we want to eat from a grocery store then all pollinators are important.

Positive effects the feral honey bee does for Alberta agriculture and environment.

  • Some non-native species provide habitat and food for native animals and plants.
  • Introduced species can also help restore native ecosystems on degraded land.
  • Introduced species can promote diversity by acting like ecosystem engineers, reworking their new habitat.
  • Honey bees demonstrate another benefit that introduced species can offer. Other introduced species can pollinate plants as well, while some animals help native plants in other ways.
  • Honey bees provide significant crop pollination services around the world, in fact 30% of our food.
  • Honey bees offer pollination services to humans in production of market based crops, fiber, forage, timber and non timber forest products (e.g. firewood, medicinal products and wild fruits).
  • Honey bees reproduce wild plants that play a role in other ecosystem services.

Whether invasive or native, all of natures pollinators are important for everyone’s survival.

“Conservation biologists have to set aside purist ideas about restoring ecosystems to some pre-human state. In cases where habitats have been radically altered, he says, “removing alien species just because they are alien is futile.”

Forget about the pre-industrial state. As long as humans are here the planets ecosystem will continue to change and as a result, nature will always have to adapt to our footprint. So how do we create resilience in the ecosystem? By acknowledging evolution as an advantage. Remember?  Evolution is constant and adaptations can happen when we least expect it.

Just because honey bees aren’t “local” to North America that doesn’t mean they should be eradicated. Not from North America or any other region on the planet. Honey bees pollinate 30% of the worlds food crops and a substantial 90% of wild plants.

In order to keep our feral honey bees local, we have to consider conciliation biology to work as a way to reach alternative and sustainable outcomes in a human-dominated world.

We’re pro honey bee!

Rather than signaling defeat, conciliation biology thus utilizes the predictive power of evolutionary theory to offer diverse and flexible pathways to more sustainable outcomes.

Scott Caroll’s conciliation biology


I’m surprised Portlandia hasn’t done an episode on honey bees. It’s probably the most hipster thing to do!