Reimagining Apiculture and Conservation in the Face of Climate Change

The climate emergency and accelerating extinction rates across species necessitate a re-evaluation of core belief systems and practices in apiculture and conservation. The ecological integrity of wild honeybee (Apis mellifera) populations is transforming the fundamentals of apiculture, initiating a radical shift in thinking for apiculturists, conservationists, and scientists alike.

The Wilding Paradigm

Wilding has emerged as a driving force in creating a new, holistic paradigm for apiculture and conservation. It describes self-willed ecological processes in ‘living landscapes’ – areas characterized by long-term, minimal intervention, and natural process-led management. As keystone species, honeybees serve as both a resource and inspiration for human work in agriculture, sociocultural and environmental fields, apiculture, and economics.

Deep Ecology

Deep ecology’s core principle is the belief that the living environment as a whole should be respected and regarded as having inherent moral and legal rights to live and flourish, independent of its instrumental benefits for human use. Deep ecology is often framed in terms of a broader sociality: it recognizes diverse communities of life on Earth that are composed not only of biotic factors but also, where applicable, through ethical relations. This means valuing other beings as more than just resources.

The Galbreath Wildlands Preserve: A 7-year research project of wild Honeybees

The Galbreath Wildlands Preserve, located in a remote region of northern California, is home to a thriving population of wild honeybees (Apis mellifera). Since 2021, we have been assessing the Preserve for bee trees using various beelining techniques. As of June 2024, we have successfully located nearly 50 nests.

Monitoring and Survival Rates

Our team conducts monthly monitoring of each nest. Preliminary data from this ongoing study reveals an impressive annual survival rate of approximately 80% for these wild honeybee colonies. This resilience is particularly noteworthy when compared to the survival rates of managed honeybees in backyard and industrial beekeeping settings, which typically range from 30-50%.

Collaborative Research Efforts

We strive to collaborate on this project with academia and NGOs to enhance our understanding and broaden the impact of our research. Our partnerships with Texas A&M and Purdue University have been particularly fruitful, and the results from these collaborations will be published shortly. These academic partnerships help validate our findings and contribute to the broader scientific community’s knowledge of wild honeybee populations.

Implications for Bee Conservation

The stark contrast between the survival rates of wild and managed honeybee populations is both inspiring and informative. It underscores the importance of natural habitats and the potential for wild bee populations to thrive when given the right conditions. This data could have significant implications for bee conservation efforts and sustainable beekeeping practices.Our ongoing research at the Galbreath Wildlands Preserve, bolstered by academic collaborations, continues to provide valuable insights into the behavior, adaptability, and resilience of wild honeybee populations in their natural habitat. The forthcoming publications will further contribute to our understanding of these crucial pollinators and may inform future conservation strategies.