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Large populations of bees are used by humans to produce honey. Most vegans do not consume honey as it is an animal product and therefore it is in conflict with their beliefs.

Are there any studies/predictions on what would be the impact of major shift in human production of honey on the bees population in the world? Would this not negatively affect an already endangered part of the ecosystem? And, if anyone know an answer to this, are the bees who are for generations used to produce honey by humans, able to adapt to a life without human intervention?

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There are tens of thousands of bee species in the world. (Bees aren't the only pollinators in the world -- they're just well-known, and also used to "target" pollination of some crops, such as almond trees.) So even if all managed European honeybee (the species which produces honey and which is kept by beekeepers) hives were to drop dead today, there would still be numerous bees in the world.

Are [honeybees] able to adapt to a life without human intervention?

Unlike most domesticated livestock, honeybees are quite capable of thriving without human caretakers (even after centuries of humans keeping bees, wild colonies are still estimated to outnumber managed colonies by a significant margin).

There is actually very little* that beekeepers can do for a hive's survival, and typical wisdom for beginner keepers is to "just let the bees do their thing" -- i.e., the less intervention, the better. Opening a hive causes disruption, annoys the bees, and potentially damages their comb. Harvesting too much honey can reduce their food stores (a balance which most beekeepers I know struggle with).

Hives often swarm in the spring (part of the colony flying away with a new queen), and those swarms don't tend to gravitate naturally towards manmade hive boxes -- they will end up in hollows of trees, abandoned barns, people's attics, wherever they can find a suitable open space that they can fill with comb to build a home. Those colonies can be relocated to a hive when removed by a competent professional, but they aren't necessarily "happier" or "safer" or "healthier" there -- just out of the way, and not going to get killed by a allergic homeowner who doesn't want to deal with thousands of stinging bees in their crawlspace.

* Occasionally checking for and treating for pests (varroa mites, hive beetles) is good for hive maintenance, but this is infrequent; even a well-monitored hive is susceptible to infection and collapse, to the chagrin of many beekeepers.

  • Interesting, thank you for your answer. While there is tens of thousands of bees species, the honeybees we as humans use are surely one of the most populous, aren't they? But I get your point, that despite that, it would not be such a blow to the planet as I thought when asking about this. Thanks again. I will not accept your question just yet so that others are more inclined to chip in with their answers, but it is definitely a good one. – Alexander Rossa Feb 8 '17 at 16:13
  • I found, and linked above, another StackExchange question that addresses wild/managed bee colonies more directly (in brief, there's something like 9-10x more wild Apis mellifera colonies than managed ones). Honeybees tend to have a relatively enormous number of members per colony (thousands in a hive, whereas bumblebees only have hundreds)... but it's still really only a small fraction of the enormous number of insects in the world. – Erica Feb 8 '17 at 17:45
  • I have had a look at the link you mentioned, thanks for sharing that. Yes, it indeed looks that what I considered to have a huge impact would in fact be hardly a dent in the bigger scheme of things. – Alexander Rossa Feb 8 '17 at 20:25
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It depends on what is used instead.

While shopping recently I saw a vegan substitute for honey and the first ingredient was organic apple juice. Well as it turns out, apple trees are normally pollinated by honeybees.

Honeybee hives are most commonly used in the United States, and arrangements may be made with a commercial beekeeper who supply hives for a fee. Honeybees of the genus Apis are the most common pollinator for apple trees.

It's not really clear that purchasing one product associated with commercial beekeeping (apples) reduces demand for bee labour compared to buying a coproduct of beekeeping: honey.

A change toward honey substitutes like maple or agave syrup, or avoiding such sweeteners entirely, seems like a necessary baseline for evaluating whether avoidance of honey could impact worldwide bee populations.

It seems like a movement away from low-variety monocrop agriculture toward high-variety food production like permaculture has the best potential to improve both bee welfare (they get sick when only a single plant is available) and probably also reduce overall exploitation of honeybees because more pollination would be performed by native bee species.

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