Modelling the distribution and interactions of wild and managed bees in Malta

Study reveals competition for floral resources between honeybees and wild bees in Malta

Ongoing work as part of the MCST Space Fund project BEEPOLL being carried out by the Ecostack Innovations team is focused on developing an improved understanding of the ecology of wild and managed bees in Malta. Through our work, we evaluate the use of floral and nesting resources of wild bees in the Maltese Islands and assess any potential competition between different species. The interdisciplinary approach adopted in this project will include the use of cutting-edge technology, including remote sensing techniques on medium to high-resolution satellite images, coupled with 2D neural networks, and the BEEPOLL team aims to provide tools that can help to prioritise pollinator conservation measures. 

A recent study published in the journal Xjenza analysed the interactions between bees and flowering plant species at 78 sites across the Maltese Islands. Mario Balzan and Leticia De Santis observed these interactions across several habitat types and found that the high visitation rate of honeybees negatively affects the abundance of wild bees.

The Maltese archipelago is home to around 105 bee species, including the endemic Maltese subspecies of the western honeybee (Apis mellifera ruttneri). Honeybees form colonies, whereas most wild bees are solitary and nest below ground. During the study, bee species were observed to be interacting with 74 flowering plants, with the Maltese honeybee and ground-nesting wild bees strongly associated with agricultural habitats. Honeybees interact with a huge variety of different plant species, collecting nectar and pollen from plants that are also visited by wild bees.

There is a long tradition of apiculture and honey production in Malta, with a hive density of almost 13 hives per square kilometre, which is higher than the European average. The study recommends increasing the abundance and diversity of floral resources and nesting habitats for bees by leaving wildflowers to grow in areas such as roadside verges, reducing the mowing regime to less than twice per year.