There are still wild bees in Europe

It was thought that honeybees no longer existed in the wild. A new study shows otherwise. There are still bees in the wild in Europe. Where do they live? In Galicia. Benjamin Rutschmann and Patrick Kohl of the University of Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria describe this. They explain where to find the bee nests. And how to help conserve them.

There are still wild bees in Europe. And they live in Galicia.
There are still wild bees in Europe. And they live in Galicia.

Colonies on poles

Their findings appear in the journal Biological Conservation. The team began their studies in Galicia in October 2019. The suggestion came from their Spanish colleague Alejandro Machado. He observed swarms of bees inside hollow power poles, thriving there. The researchers searched for hollow power poles in an area of 136 square kilometers.

“We discovered 214 poles,” Rutschmann says in a statement. For each one, the researchers checked whether a colony of bees lived inside. “In the first year of our research, we found 29 colonies.” By March 2020, 17 of these colonies had survived the winter.

All colonies were members of the Iberian honey bee, Apis mellifera iberiensis. “It was two years of study and a total of 52 bee colonies observed. Forty percent of the colonies survive the winter,” reports Alejandro Machado. These are data never before reported on the survival rates of wild bee colonies in Europe.

The colonies live in hollow electricity poles.
Colonies live in hollow power poles.

Determining environment

Its survival depends largely on how natural the environment is. It increases on power poles surrounded by scrub, heathland or woodland. It decreases on power poles located in intensively cultivated fields.

“It is a stark contrast between near-nature and agricultural wilderness. The context of the landscape plays such an important role in the survival of the bees,” says Rutschmann.

The study shows the fundamental importance of extensive forms of land use. Restoration of near-natural landscape features is urgently needed for insect conservation. There are still wild bees in Europe. But, “without sufficient nesting and foraging habitats, this will not last long,” Kohl concludes.

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