Bees bounce back from Australia’s black summer: “All life is good life” | The bees

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YesOne could say that Adrian Iodice is sort of a sticky-billed neighbor. On the once lush property of the Iodice Bush, nestled in the Bega Valley in New South Wales, stands a majestic rough-barked apple tree in which the beekeeper used to pinch his head from time to time. time.

In the hollow of the trunk lived a thriving wild colony of European honey bees that Iodice had watched for years. “I’ll have a conversation with them,” he laughs. “Put my head in it and see how they’re doing in life. They were very gentle bees; they never tried me.

In the wake of the black summer bushfires of 2019-2020 that set his land and house ablaze, Iodice’s thoughts turned to the abode of his insect neighbors. “So I went to stick my head in the hollow as usual, but they weren’t there,” he said. “Much of the wax had melted, only the residue was left. I am quite moved.

Iodice watched over about a dozen wild beehives scattered around his property. All were lost in the flames. “Even the trees that survived, the settlements burned down anyway because of the way the hollows act like chimneys in a fire,” he says. “All the animals in these hollows would have suffered the same fate. Looking at the trees still standing and knowing where these beehives were… not seeing any activity was quite shocking.

It was a similar story just through the hotbeds of the black summer of Australia. The honey industry has reported that at least 2.5 billion honey bees in New South Wales and Victoria alone have been killed in the fires. As Iodice notes, the loss of pollinators such as bees and wasps has profound implications for any ecosystem, let alone one recovering from an unprecedented fire. “Plants cannot get up and run across the paddock to make love to each other; they need bees to carry the pollen, ”he says. “You’re not going to have this regeneration without them – without pollinators, there is no ecosystem at all. “

Adrian Iodice takes care of his bees.  The honey industry has reported that at least 2.5 billion honey bees in New South Wales and Victoria alone have been killed in the fires.
Adrian Iodice takes care of his bees. The honey industry has reported that at least 2.5 billion honey bees in New South Wales and Victoria alone were killed in the black fires this summer. Photograph: Annette Ruzicka / MAPgroup courtesy of the Australian Conservation Foundation

Iodice wanted to do something about it – and he wasn’t alone. Local organizations such as Bee Day Australia have offered to support her restoration projects. Help has also arrived from overseas, with the UK’s Natural Beekeeping Trust hovering over BoomtreeBees expert Michael Verspuij to help train Iodice in building log beehives. Armed with this new knowledge, Iodice scooped up the charred remains of the bush to find logs whose insides were burnt just to be carved into the large cavities that bees prefer. “By doing this, we would prevent bees from grabbing snacks more suitable for sugar gliders and birds,” he says. Iodice and his team hoisted these log beehives into the trees, where they were protected from subsequent disasters, such as the recent flooding that swept across New South Wales and drowned commercial beehives at ground level.

Iodice built ‘bee hotels’ for native bees and wasps and worked with the native organization Back to Country to hold a healing ceremony in the Bega Valley, where locals planted native plant species to facilitate the return of pollinators.

This is an example of efforts to restore Australia’s bee population following a cataclysmic event.

Heavy rains in spring and summer have catalyzed a remarkable rebound in insect populations, benefiting not only the environment, but also the honey industry and farms that depend on pollinators.

With around 10,000 commercial beehives lost in bushfires across the state, the NSW Apiarists’ Association has worked to share surviving hives among areas in need of pollinators, such as orange orchards in the Riverina.

The recovery has been so strong that in southern New South Wales honey production has increased by 60-100% compared to 2019.

Victoria Beekeepers Association president Phillip McPherson said the steady rain has also benefited his state’s bee population and believes Victoria will have her best fall production in years. He estimates the state’s honey industry has lost at least a thousand beehives in the fires, but notes the impact has not been as severe as it was north of the border.

The VAA has worked to support its NSW counterparts, connecting beekeepers in need with suitable sites. “A number of beekeepers crossed the border and wintered in central Victoria last year, staying there until the almonds were pollinated,” McPherson says.

Basha Stasak, nature program manager at the Australian Conservation Foundation, says that although bee numbers have rebounded after the destruction of vast expanses of flowering trees in the bushfires, “our buzzing friends continue to contend. to serious challenges. There are fears that some insecticides used by agricultural industries could kill bees, and Australia’s persistent land clearing problem is bad news for bees. “

Stasak warned that Australia’s national environmental protections do not protect their habitat. “Since Australia’s National Environmental Law came into force 20 years ago, an area of ​​endangered species habitat the size of Tasmania has been mined, cleared and bulldozed,” she says. .

“If you treat them well, they tend to be very tolerant of us,” says beekeeper Adrian Iodice.
“If you treat them well, they tend to be very tolerant of us,” says beekeeper Adrian Iodice. Photograph: Annette Ruzicka / MAPgroup courtesy of the Australian Conservation Foundation

On Kangaroo Island in South Australia, beekeepers are also struggling to bounce back from the devastation of the black summer to the local bee population.

Beekeepers from Adelaide visit the island every few months to help rebuild Ligurian bee hives.

Support was also given to native non-honey-producing bees, including the rare green carpenter bee which lost most of its habitat on Kangaroo Island in the fires. The Wheen Bee Foundation has used its “Strategic Bee Reconstruction and Recovery Fund” to fund new native bee nesting rods, built by volunteers at the Kingscote Men’s Shed.

Entomologist Dr Katja Hogendoorn of the University of Adelaide, who is conducting surveys of the green carpenter bee population, is a hard fact about the scale of the challenge. “Ninety-nine percent of the habitat has burned,” she says. “The remaining population is now so small that we are not sure it is viable.”

According to Hogendoorn, it’s too early to tell if the nesting stems will be enough. “We’ll know through adoption in two years,” she said. Hogendoorn notes that while “the jury is still out” on whether introduced bees pose a competitive threat to their native counterparts, she nonetheless encourages the island’s honey industry to leave some space. to the green carpenter bee to try to recover.

Back in New South Wales, Iodice says he collected vitriol online from people criticizing his efforts to encourage wild colonies of European honey bees. “What people don’t understand is that when ecosystems are faced with the level of devastation they’ve caused in fires, all life is good,” he says.

Iodice is not yet finished. Using part of his bushfire insurance payment, he bought a caravan to tour Australia with his family, running workshops on natural beekeeping and log beehives.

“One thing I point out is that natural beekeeping relies on a relationship between the bees and the beekeeper,” he says. “If you treat them well, they tend to be very tolerant of us, so I teach students to be nice. They tell us when we can work with them. “

Reflecting on the initial restoration after the fires, he recalls how bringing the community together to plant “pollination plots” didn’t just help the bush. “These residents who had lost everything, they were not just helping the environment – they were making a new start for themselves.”

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