View Full Version : A bee hive as an ecosystem
02-24-2004, 08:40 AM
I've seen quite a few hives in trees. They are not just made up of bees. There is a debris pile at the bottom of the hive that has ants and beetles and wax moth larvae and many other living things in it. Probably there are a lot of microscopic things I can't see or small things I didn't see.
We tend to assume these are all bad things to have in a hive, but I wonder if this micro-ecosystem has some synergetic properties that we eliminate when we keep the debris cleaned up?
For one thing, wax moths are always around. Maybe a place for them to lay their eggs where they are garbage collectors instead of pests keeps the eggs out of the active combs.
Ants may serve a purpose more than just garbage collectors. Maybe they eat mites? Maybe they serve other purposes?
Anyone have any speculation on this?
I am considering an experimental hive with a debris pile underneath to see how it does. I probably will have a screen between the debris and the hive, just so the wax moths that develop don't fly right up into the hive and the mice that decide to nest don't get into the hive etc.
Anyone else have any thoughts on this?
I think I would concur with your speculations. I know that the fire ants did an admirable job for me of cleaning some wax moth-ridden comb that I took off a weak hive. After they were done, the comb looked really clean and I needed only to put it in the freezer for a couple of days before I could confidently place it back on the hive.
The same can be applied to the human world--it's my humble opinion that our "fear of bugs & bacteria" has broken down our immune systems. I mean it's good to be clean, but all these antibacterial products that are on the market now are just unnecessary.
In other words, to some extent, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." I think it applies to the bees, too!
02-24-2004, 09:32 AM
I don't know anything about ants in hives, but I do know that they love sugar, so it might not be smart to encourage them TOO much. They are incredibly interesting little social insects (and I am assuming that anyone into bees has an interest in social insects). Ants "farm" aphids to harvest the syrupy substance that they give off as waste ( you know, the stuff that makes your car windshield sticky if you park under the wrong tree!). They also farm fungus. I guess, then, that there is a possibility that they would have some sort of symbiotic relationship with the bees as they do with aphids, ie ants can't produce sugar, but they need it, so it would be in their interests to help/ protect the producers.
I'm very interested to hear what happens with your experimental hive, Michael. I went to a lecture on some new evolutionary theory last week, and it turns out that the basic unit of life on earth may not be the individual, but rather highly interdependent and interconnected community, from the level of the biosphere all the way down to the functioning of a single cell! We humans could learn from that!
02-24-2004, 12:06 PM
The tree and wall hives that I've seen have jagged/jumbled piles of debris several inches thick. Also, the hive bottoms are entirely enclosed. It could be that different bacteria and other critters develope in the natural setting versus what developes on a manmade hive bottom. Maybe, the next removal I do I'll collect the debris pile to examine more closely.
Btw, I've never seen ants in a tree/wall with the bees. I have seen ants in a Langstroth hive.
Another little tidbit: the excretion (actually a kind of nectar) from aphids is collected by bees. In Germany they call the resulting honey "Wald Honig" - real dark with a strong flavor, highly prized and good tasting.
02-24-2004, 01:28 PM
We get it here in Nebraska and it's not at all prized in fact it's not of any commercial value because of the taste.
Maybe it's a different bug, but the honey is reddish colored and has a little bit of aftertatste. I like it.
Scot Mc Pherson
02-24-2004, 05:14 PM
That new evolutionary theory has actually been around for a LONG LONG time. And if you speak in religion/spiritual circles including christianity and judeism, this has been known for millenia.
Scot Mc Pherson
02-25-2004, 06:35 AM
In an article about beekeeping in Nepal http://nanaimo.ark.com/~cberube/nepalbee.htmConrad Berube mentions an arachnid, a pseudoscorpion, that is often found in the hives and is refered to as a "beekeepers friend" by the local beekeepers but none remember why. One hypothesis is that they prey on veroa mites and help keep infestations low. We have a similar pseudoscorpion in North America that can often be found in straw or hay.
02-25-2004, 04:30 PM
Does anyone know of any studies done on wild "bee ecosystems" here or in Europe (which is where all our bees came from isn't it?). Most systems in nature are self regulating, and work better when we allow them to be complex.
Interesting stuff about the pseudoarachnids!
Yes Scot, I know. Funny how when people are honestly searching for truth, they all arrive at the same place, regardless of how they got there or choose to express it.
02-25-2004, 05:30 PM
I don't know of any studies. It only occurs to me having seen a lot of wild hives and having that view of things anyway.
02-25-2004, 06:47 PM
Another way of looking at this issue of bees and their debris is that the whole ecosystem (in this case we restrict it to be what we observe as a bee hive + debris below) is really what matters. If seen in that way, whether one species or another disappears from that community of creatures really is of little importance. What matters is the whole thing or, rather, the thing as a whole. In this case, maybe it is the aphids that may perish or it may be the bees. Once established the pile of debris may be able to survive on its own (without bees that is).
This is well known to be the case in complex ecosystems that have many species.
So, from the standpoint of a beekeeper, such ecosystem may have little value. From the perspective of the little ecosystem, it may not matter much.
I would be very curious and interested to know the results of your experiment, Michael. Perhaps for the bees it is not the best since they will be exposed to a bunch of potential predators and diseases. Perhaps, as Tia says, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger" and the bees will indeed benefit.
For your experiment, however, i would use more than one hive to get some meaningful results. Will you treat it also against varroa? If they are bees growing on small cell you shouldn't need to, and that would be the best experiment, comparing your results with equally untreated "clean" hives.
02-26-2004, 05:44 AM
>So, from the standpoint of a beekeeper, such ecosystem may have little value. From the perspective of the little ecosystem, it may not matter much.
It may not, or it may. I may be that the "predators" are more likely to fall in the debris and less likely to get back on the bees (because bees don't get on the debris pile). It also may be that the wax moths would have layed their eggs somewhere anyway and now they are in the debris pile instead of the combs. It may be that there are many living things in the debris pile that in some way contribute to the health of the hive. Or it may be that it makes little difference.
>Perhaps for the bees it is not the best since they will be exposed to a bunch of potential predators and diseases.
I guess that's what I'm questioning. They do fine in feral hives with all of that there.
>Perhaps, as Tia says, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger" and the bees will indeed benefit.
I guess I'm not expecting it to be a burden on the bees. But we will see.
>For your experiment, however, i would use more than one hive to get some meaningful results.
I have so many experiments going it's difficult to get a lot of them involved on any one. But I will see what I can arrange.
>Will you treat it also against varroa? If they are bees growing on small cell you shouldn't need to, and that would be the best experiment, comparing your results with equally untreated "clean" hives.
I won't be on the ones in this experiment.
I probably will not be treating for varroa on any of the regressed hives. I will probably use the FGMO fog on the ones not regressed yet and hopefully by fall they will be regressed.
Scot Mc Pherson
03-11-2004, 06:56 AM
Darwin and others have said, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."
and that also applies to species and populations. "That which does not wipe out a species makes it stronger."
Pests, predetors and other forms of death are doing a favor to a species by wiping out those that cannot survive whatever it is that is killing them. Although it doesn't seem economic in the short run, we shouldn't be trying too hard to keep our weak bees alive. They are "defective" or perhaps "ineffective" for their current environment. It hurts our hearts and our pockets, but if we let them all die out, and keep the ones that live, then we are helping our future pockets by not needing to expend so much to keep them alive.
Yeah ok, say what you will, "I can't afford to." "Bees are my livelyhood", or whatever. But keep your weak bees alive and they won't be your livelyhood in the long run.
04-20-2012, 07:52 PM
Becky, scientists often try to figure out what the basic unit of things is. Molecules are made up of atoms which are made up of smaller particles which are made of even smaller particles and these things can even be considered a particle but more like a fuzzy poof of smoke. And I think they will find there are even smaller things in the future and that the boundaries are even fuzzier between all of these things.
And then there is life. I believe that we should not waste time trying to define the so-called basic unit of life. All boundaries are fuzzy. A bee colony dies without a queen if it is unable to make a new on. This is would seem is equivalent to an individual human getting their liver ripped out. IF you get a transplant quickly you live if not you will die. Is a bee colony an individual then? Not if you think of an individual as a separate entity with its own brain and liver. A pack of wolves is quite social but does not have as much in common with an individual as a Bee colony. But then we look at the microbial community of billions that live in and on our bodies, if all of these died then we would probably die. If the person dies all of the microbes perish that depend on a living human host. Are individual cells the basic unit of life? I think not. The mitochondria have their own DNA so we have two life forms that make up every cell in our bodies. When I think, is it as a single human or is it the collective consciousness of all of those Mitochondria? We are the Borg? No? Perhaps DNA is the basic unit of life? Whatever. There are many subtle levels, graduations of interconnectedness. Perhaps one day the interdependence of Bee and man will develop into a symbiotic relationship from which we cannot divorce without death. Or maybe we are already there. Our food would die out without them. Perhaps we need them every bit as much as we need the microbes in our guts.
I disagree with Jorge: when one species disappears from an ecosystem, the ripples affect every species in the ecosystem. Population densities shift. Some other species may die out as well. New species may move in to fill a niche they previously could not access. Once the ripples settle, the debris pile ecosystem is an alien world. So while the degree to which the loss of a bee colony matters may vary from species to species in that ecosystem, it does affect every species there. As for the supposed exposure to pathogens, I think Tia would say that is good just as I believe. The weak shall die and future generations shall be stronger. All of this medicating is resulting is weak bees. They are becoming dependent of human chemical intervention for survival. My theory is that these weak bees are crossing with wild bees, weakening the new generations so that they sometimes die when facing natural challenges which would easily be handled by a pure wild hive. If I am right, beekeepers are partially at fault for colony collapses.
I think Beekeepers are about to learn something I learned long ago, the further you get from nature, the more unhealthy you become. The bees must be kept under the most natural conditions possible. I have not found my bees yet. Hopefully soon they will come to me once my traps are built. My intentions are to have thicker walls for the hives and a trough bottom filled with debris inoculated with material from hollow trees, hopefully from a tree occupied by bees. They will receive no medications. In this way I hope to maintain an Apiary full of genetically fit hives and I will try to keep you posted on my results.