Towards a systems approach for understanding honeybee decline: a stocktaking and synthesis of existing models.

Published online
31 Jul 2013
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Becher, M. A. & Osborne, J. L. & Thorbek, P. & Kennedy, P. J. & Grimm, V.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
USA & Europe


The health of managed and wild honeybee colonies appears to have declined substantially in Europe and the United States over the last decade. Sustainability of honeybee colonies is important not only for honey production, but also for pollination of crops and wild plants alongside other insect pollinators. A combination of causal factors, including parasites, pathogens, land use changes and pesticide usage, are cited as responsible for the increased colony mortality. However, despite detailed knowledge of the behaviour of honeybees and their colonies, there are no suitable tools to explore the resilience mechanisms of this complex system under stress. Empirically testing all combinations of stressors in a systematic fashion is not feasible. We therefore suggest a cross-level systems approach, based on mechanistic modelling, to investigate the impacts of (and interactions between) colony and land management. We review existing honeybee models that are relevant to examining the effects of different stressors on colony growth and survival. Most of these models describe honeybee colony dynamics, foraging behaviour or honeybee - varroa mite - virus interactions. We found that many, but not all, processes within honeybee colonies, epidemiology and foraging are well understood and described in the models, but there is no model that couples in-hive dynamics and pathology with foraging dynamics in realistic landscapes. Synthesis and applications. We describe how a new integrated model could be built to simulate multifactorial impacts on the honeybee colony system, using building blocks from the reviewed models. The development of such a tool would not only highlight empirical research priorities but also provide an important forecasting tool for policy makers and beekeepers, and we list examples of relevant applications to bee disease and landscape management decisions.

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