Our news in the UK is dominated by Brexit. Whether we remain or leave, it makes no difference to the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina). With 17 confirmed sightings in England since 2016, we must stay vigilant. If the Asian hornet gets a foothold in Britain, we will join other countries in Europe that are suffering economic losses – that’s a fact.
In a 43 page report published by the European Commission in September 2019, Invasive Alien Species represent a major threat to biodiversity in Europe and worldwide and can cause significant damages to the ecology, economy and livelihood of countries affected.
Despite EU Member States recognising the need for early eradication and management, there is still little interest on the effects on socio-economic aspects at EU level. The report suggests that an assessment is needed to better understand the potential damages caused by alien species, such as the Asian hornet, and the adverse impact on biodiversity, related ecosystem services and the cost of damage.
The report refers to earlier research on the potential influence of habitat type and seasonal variations on prey of the Asian hornet in Europe and these charts show the percentages of prey categories of the Asian hornet in relation to the three different habitats.
Based on this, it is estimated that the Asian hornet could be responsible for the loss of 66% of bee colonies in urban areas in Europe alone where it has become established. The other two charts indicated this coudl be 35% in rural areas and 33% in woodland habitat.
The Asian hornet is a voracious predator of honey bees and have been known to decapitate up to 50 honey bees a day, taking the thorax section providing protein back to the nest. They will hover at the hive entrance (known as hawking) and try to capture foraging bees returning to the hive.
Impact on pollination
Potentially what impact does this have on the pollination service that many insects provide? According to the report, agriculture, households and the retailing sector are all affected because the decrease in the number of pollinators reduces the production of fruits and the knock-on effect is economic losses. It has already been shown that fruit trees pollination in four nations – Spain, France, Italy and Portugal – are severely affected.
Distribution of Asian hornet
Map showing the distribution of Asian hornets in Europe (2014).
Fedele E., Gervasini E., Cardoso A.C., La Notte A., Vallecillo S., Tsiamis K., Maes J., Invasive Alien Species impact on Ecosystem Services -Asian hornet (Vespa velutina nigrithorax) case study, EUR 29827 ΕΝ, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2019.ISBN 978-92-76-09511-8, doi:10.2760/134398, JRC 111718.