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Beekeeping and Apis Biodiversity in Europe

Why is honeybee conservation necessary?

Natural honeybee populations in Europe have been seriously affected by human activities. Man has introduced and promoted non-native subspecies of honeybees in many European countries. Native populations are also subject to gene flow from managed colonies because mating is largely uncontrolled.

From a conservation perspective two important components of honeybee diversity are threatened:

  1. Native races and subspecies of honeybees which are adapted to their local environment,
  2. Genetic diversity within local populations.</li> </ul>

A major first objective of the BABE project will be to make a genetic inventory of the European honeybees to identify native honeybee populations by their differences in DNA. This will show the regional variation that exists in European bees. This base line data will help beekeepers to focus on and improve their native subspecies rather than rely on the importation of mated queen bees from other areas, since this would hinder improvement of native bees.

Scientific objectives and approach

Conservation of European honeybee diversity is the main objective of the BABE project. There are two main elements:

  1. Conservation of locally adapted subspecies,
  2. Maintenance of genetic diversity within local populations.

We address these issues in five complementary work packages:

  1. Genetic diversity of European honeybees: BABE will quantify the genetic composition of regional honeybee populations to determine the proportion of non-native bees.
  2. Genetic analysis of conserved populations: We will characterize populations with little or no introduction of non-native bees using both mitochondrial and chromosomal (microsatellites) DNA markers.
  3. Genetic analysis of managed populations: BABE will evaluate the impact of former intensive breeding and artificially managed populations on the genetics of adjacent native populations.
  4. Practical conservation: BABE will collaborate with existing honeybee conservation groups and programs throughout Europe by investigating the genetics of the local populations being conserved by this groups.
  5. Honeybee improvement: BABE will assist in quantifying desirable traits such as disease resistance and advise on breeding programs and other practical issues such as improved queen rearing.

Major project outcomes:

  • The identification of conflicts between the conservation of biodiversity in honeybees and beekeeping
  • The development of breeding concepts in the management of conflicts between biodiversity conservation and human activities in Europe
  • The development of honeybee breeding techniques to conserve honeybe biodiversity in Europe including a manual how to sustainably conserving both apiculture and biodiversity
  • A framework for monitoring the success of breeding efforts conserving biodiversity.

Further Information

Project Duration
Project Duration
September 2004

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