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The effects of land use on honey bee (Apis mellifera) population density and colony strength parameters in the Eastern Cape, South Africa

Abstract

Livestock farming in the Eastern Cape, South Africa is a common land use practice that has affected the biodiversity of plants and animals in the region negatively. Indigenous populations of wild honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies also may suffer. Recently, farmers in the Eastern Cape have been converting their farms to game reserves as ecotourism attractions and nature conservation lands. Consequently, the goal of this research was to determine if land use habits (livestock farming and conversion to game reserves) in the Eastern Cape affect honey bee colony population density and colony strength parameters. A series of indices were developed to compare the relative population densities of colonies in two or more areas by counting the number of foraging bees and number of bee lines established at feeding stations. Wild colonies on farms and reserves were located and sampled to determine land use effects on colony strength parameters including total area of comb in the colony, the area of comb containing stored honey, pollen, and brood, adult bee population, weight per bee, and the colony nest cavity volume ratio. When viewed collectively, the data indicated that land use practices have affected honey bee nesting dynamics in the Eastern Cape. Trends in the data suggested that colonies nesting on the reserves may occur in greater densities than those nesting on livestock farms, though they do not appear to be healthier. Hopefully, this work will be continued since honey bee conservation in areas where they are native is crucial to the health of agriculture and whole ecosystems globally.

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Acknowledgments

This project was made possible by the cooperation of the University of Florida (Gainesville, FL, USA) and Rhodes University (Grahamstown, South Africa). We are grateful to University of Florida and Rhodes University faculty, staff, and students for providing resources necessary for conducting the research. We thank General Motors of South Africa, for the provision of a subsidized research 4 × 4 vehicle through Makana Meadery. We thank all the landowners, managers, employees of the study sites and Makana Meadery for allowing access and assistance during the field work phase of this project: Jennifer and Giles Gush, the Dell family, Mike Sparg, Hennie le Roux, Theo Harris, Ezra Schoonbee, Roger Hart, Charlene Bisset, Toast Rowan Seagers, Mirko Barnard, Coburs Delanga, Andy Ndyawe, Riaan Boucher, Phumlani Honi and Sindiswa Teyise. We also thank the laboratory of Dr. David De Jong at the University of São, Paulo, Brazil for confirming the identity of the test honey bees.

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Correspondence to Anthony D. Vaudo.

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Vaudo, A.D., Ellis, J.D., Cambray, G.A. et al. The effects of land use on honey bee (Apis mellifera) population density and colony strength parameters in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. J Insect Conserv 16, 601–611 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10841-011-9445-0

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Keywords

  • Apis mellifera scutellata
  • Apis mellifera capensis
  • Wild honey bee colonies
  • Nesting dynamics
  • Population ecology