Status of the Asian honey bee in mainland Australia

Asian honey bees (Apis cerana) were detected in 2007 in the Cairns area of Queensland. Eradication was attempted but the bees became established and have since been found in Cairns, at Mareeba and Lake Eacham, and as far south as Innisfail. Most Asian honey bee detections have been in the city and port areas of Cairns, and immediately to the south of Cairns in the Gordonvale and Aloomba districts. There are no populations of Asian honey bee outside of this area, and all new detected incursions of Asian honey bee into Australia are being eliminated.

The current population of Asian honey bee in mainland Australia does not carry any exotic bee parasites that are present in overseas populations.

Read more about Asian honey bees in Queensland on the Queensland Government department website.

Australian response to 2007 detection

Our response to the 2007 detection included:

  • an eradication programme to detect and destroy any Asian honey bee swarms and nests
  • the introduction of movement restrictions controlling managed bees and beekeeping equipment
  • a notification system so all reported nests could be destroyed.

Activities to eradicate Asian honey bees in the Cairns region were funded by the Australian Government, state and territory governments and the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC) on behalf of its members.

Biosecurity Queensland managed the response to the detection of the Asian honey bee in Cairns on behalf of the Asian Honey Bee National Management Group (NMG). The NMG comprises members from national and state/territory agricultural departments, AHBIC and Plant Health Australia. Through the NMG, the eradication programme was cost-shared nationally between 1 July 2009 and 31 March 2011.

The Asian Honey Bee NMG formed the view in January 2011 that eradication of the Asian honey bee was no longer technically feasible. Its decision was based on a number of factors, including:

  • the bee has high sensitivity to change and tends to frequently relocate nests
  • the bee breeds rapidly and can travel long distances, particularly with assisted movement on vehicles and trains
  • limitations of current surveillance methods (including such factors as terrain), which makes it difficult to locate all nests and destroy them.

Biosecurity officials from Australian and state and territory governments met with representatives from the honey bee industry and some pollination-reliant industries on 15 March 2011 to start the process of developing a national transitional containment programme for Asian honey bees.

At the request of the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport References Committee, the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests (CCEPP) reconvened on 7 and 15 April 2011 to reconsider its technical advice on the feasibility of eradication. At these meetings, the CCEPP again could not reach consensus about whether the Asian honey bee could be eradicated. However, support for future containment and management efforts was unanimous.

Transition to Management (T2M) Program

In July 2011 funding was approved by the Queensland and Australian governments, as well as the Australian honey industry, for the commencement of a Transition to Management (T2M) Program. This programme concluded in June 2013. The programme aimed to develop tools and strategies to mitigate the impacts of Asian honey bee. The shift to management drew focus to, among other things, the development of control strategies and optimising methods for detecting new incursions of Asian honey bees and the exotic bee parasites they may carry.

One of the primary concerns with the continued spread of Asian honey bee was the potential for subsequent incursions entering Cairns carrying exotic bee parasites, whose establishment could be facilitated by distributing across the resident population of Asian honey bee and subsequently transferred onto the European honey bee, Apis mellifera. The introduction of exotic bee parasites could have major impacts on the honey bee industry and pollinator-reliant plant industries as European honey bees have little to no defence against exotic bee parasites that Asian honey bees can carry.

By negotiation, the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS) working within the (then) Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (now Department of Agriculture and Water Resources) became involved in Project AG5 under the T2M Program. Project AG5 specifically aimed to optimise early detection of new incursions of Asian honey bee. NAQS produced two documents:

NAQS Asian honey bee floral surveillance manual

Publication details

Describes how to detect the presence of Asian honey bee in a high risk urban/industrial/port environment using floral surveillance.

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NAQS Asian honey bee floral surveillance manual

22

PDF

1.5 MB

NAQS Asian honey bee floral surveillance manual

22

Word

2.1 MB

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Varroa Mites on Asian honey bees in the Torres Strait

Publication details

Describes how to determine the presence of the exotic bee parasite Varroa mite on Asian honey bees.

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Varroa Mites on Asian honey bees in the Torres Strait: Prevalence on foraging bees and rapid screening of swarms

11

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998 KB

Varroa Mites on Asian honey bees in the Torres Strait: Prevalence on foraging bees and rapid screening of swarms

11

Word

1.9 MB

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Future of Asian honey bee in Australia

The National Bee Pest Surveillance Program (NBPSP) managed by Plant Health Australia aims to detect new incursions of exotic bee pests (which includes Asian honey bees) and their parasites into Australia and to provide technical and evidence-based information to support exporters claiming pest-free status in Australia.

The Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, along with AHBIC, Horticulture Innovation Australia and Grain Producers Australia, contributed funding to the NBPSP for the 2015–16 financial year.

The NAQS undertook exotic bee surveillance and host plant mapping for the NBPSP at the ports of Darwin and Weipa in the 2014–15 financial year, and will continue to provide support and undertake surveillance at designated sites.

See National Bee Pest Surveillance Program for more information.