New study a wake-up call for urban beekeepers throughout Canada
MONTREAL | TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED TERRITORY OF THE KANIEN’KEHÁ:KA FIRST NATION — A study released by researchers from Concordia University reveals that urban beekeeping is taking a toll on the wild bee population in the Montreal area. The study indicates that the increase in beekeeping activity is negatively affecting the region’s more than 150 species of wild bees that have been pollinating local flora for thousands of years.
According to the study, these wild bees are losing out to honeybees, which have an ability to forage long distances and outcompete other species. In contrast, smaller wild bees tend to have smaller ranges and are less mobile, making them more vulnerable.
Jode Roberts, manager of the David Suzuki Foundation’s Rewilding Communities program and an urban beekeeper based in Toronto, agrees with the study’s findings. “This is a wake-up call for beekeepers like me,” Roberts said. “This Spring, I am committing to give up urban beekeeping to better support the hundreds of species of wild bees that need our help.”
The number of hives on the island of Montreal has skyrocketed from less than 250 to almost 3,000 between 2013 and 2020, a 1,200 per cent increase in less than a decade. This surge in urban beekeeping is crowding out wild bee populations, the number of which have declined over the same period in areas with the highest colony densities.
“Most of our wild bees nest in the ground, similar to places where you might see an ant’s nest,” said study lead author Gail MacInnis, research scientist at Canada’s National Bee Diagnostic Centre. “So even leaving a bare patch of soil in your backyard can help wild bees, and is far less work than caring for a honeybee hive.”
The researchers recommend a precautionary maximum density of about three hives per square kilometer based on similar studies, which would mean Montreal has twice as many hives as is sustainable, assuming the hives are spread equally throughout the landscape. Roberts said it is vital that urban beekeepers take note of these findings and work toward reducing the number of hives in their cities to protect wild bee populations.
Concordia professor Carly Ziter, co-author of the study, stressed that planting pollinator gardens is a much better way to increase urban biodiversity than adding more urban hives. “Just as we wouldn’t advocate keeping backyard chickens to save the birds, we shouldn’t look to beekeeping to save the bees,” Ziter said. “It’s important that our intentions line up with our impact.”
Roberts noted that while urban beekeeping has its benefits, it must be approached with caution. “We’re not saying that beekeeping is inherently bad,” he said. “It can be a great way to support local food production and raise awareness. However, we need to be mindful of the potential negative impacts on our wild bee populations and take steps to mitigate them.”
The David Suzuki Foundation is calling for increased education and awareness about the importance of wild bees, as well as better monitoring and stronger regulations around urban beekeeping to protect wild bee populations. Planting pollinator gardens would be a more effective way of increasing urban biodiversity than adding more hives. With this information, urban beekeepers should act with caution and responsibility to protect the essential work of wild bees in pollinating local plants, shrubs and trees.
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The David Suzuki Foundation (DavidSuzuki.org | @DavidSuzukiFdn) is a leading Canadian environmental non-profit organization, founded in 1990. We operate in English and French, with offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. We collaborate with all people in Canada, including First Nations leadership and communities, governments, businesses and individuals to find solutions to create a sustainable Canada through scientific research, traditional ecological knowledge, communications and public engagement, and innovative policy and legal solutions. Our mission is to protect nature’s diversity and the well-being of all life, now and for the future.