Breeding the honeybee?

In recent years, hives of the honeybee (Apis mellifera) have been devastated in the States, European countries and Japan by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). It’s a serious matter because we need bees to pollinate crops and wild plants.

CCD isn’t fully understood yet. I’m grateful to my fellow blogger The Creator at Anchors of Reason for telling us about new research which may provide part of the answer. A parasitic mite (Varroa destructor) is associated with CCD. This research team reports that infected bees are different from other bees. They produce more of one of their normal bee proteins, seeming to make them clean their hives more. From the report I’ve just linked to it’s not clear whether this study was done on naturally infected bees or whether they’d been infected experimentally.

This is exciting new evidence about what’s going on in CCD. I haven’t seen any data about whether this biochemical change, leading to this behavioural change, really works as a defence against CCD. Does it have a downside? What biologists call a ‘fitness cost’: change something and often, it’s costly for the organism. As for the possibility of selecting for bees which make lots of this particular protein, making them hive-proud, well maybe that’ll happen.

This is one of those stories so often seen, in which it’s tempting to speculate about what bright future may arise from a new piece of scientific evidence. Let’s not get carried away. But yes, it might be true that people could breed hive-proud bees. I hope so because we really do need bees.


About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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13 Responses to Breeding the honeybee?

  1. Anthropogen says:

    It’s worthwhile note that the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) is native to Europe, Asia, and Africa and was introduced to N. America (most likely in the early 1600s) by European colonizers who liked honey but were completely unaware of the bee’s role in pollination.

    • argylesock says:

      Yes, that’s interesting. Do you know how V. destructor came to be in N America? I suppose it might be native there or it might have been introduced when A. mellifera came across.

      • Anthropogen says:

        I’m not sure how it got there, but a brief search yielded this breakdown of V. destructor introduction around the world:

        Early 1960s Japan, USSR
        1960s-1970s Eastern Europe
        1971 Brazil
        Late 1970s South America
        1980 Poland
        1982 France
        1984 Switzerland, Spain, Italy
        1987 Portugal
        1987 USA
        1989 Canada
        1992 England[5]
        2000 New Zealand (North Island)
        2006 New Zealand (South Island)[6]
        2007 Hawaiian Islands[7]

        • argylesock says:

          That’s quite a few introductions, then. But CCD didn’t immediately follow in each of those places. Evidently V. destructor isn’t one of the invasive species which rapidly decimate native fauna or flora.

          Before Koos Biesmeijer started to work mostly from the Netherlands, he told me that CCD is a husbandry issue. I’ve heard that it’s been blamed on commercial beekeepers’ practice of moving hives around in the States, following different crops’ flowering seasons. After what you’ve just said I think that Koos may have had a point.

  2. argylesock says:

    [Comment cut and pasted from my personal blog where it was posted after a slight misunderstanding]

    Varroa mites originated in Asia, not the US

    Honeybees are domestic animals, they’ve been bred for years for certain characteristics. I’m not surprised this is continuing.

    I have heard that Apis mellifera scutellata (Africanized honeybee) is not as susceptible to varroa mites. Breeding them with western honeybees is obviously problematic, not to mention they cant’ survive in the colder climates.

    There are alot of other problems that honeybees encounter (hive beetles, pesticides, the Zombie Fly Apocephalus borealis

    it’s tough out there for bees 😦

  3. Pingback: Learning from other organisms | Science on the Land

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