Pest Threat May Cause NZ Bees to Become Endangered

An expert beekeeper is warning that New Zealand bees may soon become endangered without human intervention with New Zealand losing bee colonies by the thousands.

The latest figures released by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) show New Zealand has lost over 90,000 bee colonies over the last two winter seasons.

Varroa mite infestation and toxic exposures are among the list as suspected causes.

Jessie Whitfield, founder of organisation ‘Bees Up Top,’ spends most of her spring and summer rescuing hundreds of swarms of bees from exterminators and reinstalling the hives on the rooftops and in the backyards of families and businesses around Auckland.

She said bees were struggling to survive without the help of humans due to Varroa mite parasites and the American Foul Brood (AFB) – a fatal bacterial disease for honey bees.

According to information on the MPI website, antibiotics used to manage common diseases for honey bee colonies such as AFB overseas, have developed resistance over time. But the use of antibiotics on hives is illegal in New Zealand.

Detective dogs have previously been used to sniff out bacteria in its early stages, and in 2020 MPI invested $50,000 into a project aimed at helping train detection dogs to reliably detect AFB, by creating a “scent picture” of the disease.

But if New Zealand keeps losing bee colonies at the current rate, the fashion, dairy, and meat industry, will be severely impacted, Whitfield said.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has released a handbook offering practical guidance on how to plant strategically to feed bees, in an effort to ensure a wide range of flowering plants in spring and autumn, when bees are most at risk of pollen and nectar shortages.

Dr Angus McPherson, Trees for Bees farm planting adviser and trustee, said in a statement released by MPI, that bees all around the world are facing a number of threats, including pests, disease and pesticides.

“The best weapon against these threats is to provide our bees with a steady supply of forage to help them stay healthy and strong,” he said.

You can read more about Jessie Whitfield and Bees Up Top in F+B Tech magazine here.