Friday, February 24, 2012

Invasive Species?

This week I asked a couple more biology professors if they considered the honeybee an invasive species. My ecology professor said she considers them an invasive because they displace the work of native pollinators such as bumblebees. I’m also taking a class about local botany and asked that professor what she thought, and she doesn’t believe they displace pollinators. It is true that bumblebees seem to prefer different flowers than honeybees. For example, I’ve only ever seen bumblebees on rhododendrons. My botany professor said that the honeybees and bumblebees forage at different times. In Bee School, one of the beekeepers mentioned how she planted two varieties of clover, and she noticed bumblebees preferred one variety and honeybees preferred the other. 

The reason why I’m pestering my professors with invasive honeybee questions is because I want a clear conscience when keeping bees. I like for native species to thrive and do not want harm the local ecosystem. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that my beekeeping hobby will help the native plants. More pollination means the flowering plants have more opportunities to spread their genes. It means that my blueberries, beans, squash, black raspberries and other native flowering plants will produce healthier more genetically diverse fruits. Most of the fruits and vegetables we eat are non-native species to North America. If you look at a list of the native edible plants, prior to the colonization of North America, it is pretty short.   

Virtually every species could be considered an invasive. Chickens are a non-native to North America. Our domesticated chicken most likely came from a species called Gallus gallus, Red Junglefowl, from the tropics of Asia. My chickens have a varied diet of insects, small plants, corn, chicken feed and the occasional vole. I guess they could be displacing an animal which might have eaten those insects, small plants and a few voles. The ancestor of domestic cattle were called aurochs which became extinct sometime in the early 1600s. The range for the aurochs was in Europe, Asia and North Africa. Technically, cows are also an invasive species because they are herbivores and displace other plant-eaters in North America. Pigs were domesticated very early by our ancestors. The ancestors of pigs were wild boars native to Europe, Asia and Africa. I do consider boars to be an invasive because, unlike chickens and cattle, pigs can revert back to wild boars and thrive easily without human care. In the wild, they completely wreak havoc on native populations of plants and animals. Most of the Homo sapiens, humans, living in this country are non-native and originate from Europe, Africa and Asia. Are we an invasive species, too?

I hope you see my point that most organisms can be considered an invasive species if looked at through an improper lens. Our domesticated cattle cannot survive without us feeding them and helping birth their calves. I don’t think my chickens could forage for enough food to survive very long, and all of them would fall prey to a fox if they were not locked in their coop every night. Cattle, sheep, chickens and dogs are domesticated animals bred to be taken care of by people. Bees are wild animals and will never be domesticated. The beekeeper provides a place for the bees to live and keeps them safe from predators and parasites. One-third of the food we consume was pollinated by a bee. It is extremely important that we protect and take care of honeybees because honeybees take care of us.   

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