The widespread trade in stingless beehives may introduce them into novel places and could threaten species.
Animal trade, such as birds, mammals and reptiles, is a common human activity. Among insects, few are as charismatic as bees. Their hives are commonly commercialized for multiple purposes, such as honey production, crop pollination and leisure. However, hive trade has the potential to adversely introduce species into novel places in a widespread way. Our main objectives were to evaluate the trade flow of stingless beehives in Brazil by comparing the geographical distances and climatic features between origin and destination as well as by determining the potential impact on endangered (EN) native bee species. We performed species distribution modelling to estimate their respective natural habitats. After that, we carried out a principal component analysis characterizing the climatic features found within their natural habitats and those where bees were negotiated. Subsequently, we applied hierarchical clustering followed by a Procrustes analysis to evaluate the contrast between the climatic niches of original and destination places. We also checked the conservation status of each species being commercialized and whether exotic species could be introduced within their areas. At least nine species of stingless bees were negotiated during the surveyed period. The hives were requested for almost 100 different localities. Over 40% of sellers and buyers were located outside the natural range of the stingless bee species being negotiated, and half of interested people were as far as 320 km. Climatic features vary considerably between natural habitat and traded regions. This implies that some species might suffer and perish due to intolerance to new climatic features. Nonetheless, species can be taken to new areas that are climatically suitable, creating a risk of biological introduction and invasion events. Finally, most hives were requested in places where equivalent bee species are under EN status. Synthesis and application. Even if managed in hives, exotic stingless bees are flying insects, meaning that they may interact and compete for resources with local bee populations. Therefore, stingless beehive displacement for non-native places and at large spatial scales should be prevented in negotiations to safeguard their welfare and the sustainability of local populations in the long term.