Project: Honeybee conservation centers in Western Europe: an innovative strategy using sustainable beekeeping to reduce honeybee decline

The current rate of species extinction in the biosphere would be comparable with those of the last massive extinctions. The reduction in the richness of species and genetic diversity is accompanied by deterioration of a great number of ecosystemic services like pollination by animals (i.e. zoogamy). Several biotic (ex.: pathogens, alien species) and abiotic (ex.: habitat loss and fragmentation, agrochemicals, climate change) factors are probably involved in this disturbance of pollination and on the decline of pollinating species leading to a loss of genetic diversity. Genetic diversity of a species is a key factor to counter infection by native and invasive pathogens and to respond to abiotic factor pressures (ex. pollution) in any habitat. Species with an important distribution range, like the honeybee, Apis mellifera, have acquired a great adaptive potential to diverse environmental conditions. Covering Europe, Middle East and Africa, A. mellifera is subdivided into at least 26 physiologically, behaviourally and morphologically distinct subspecies. These subspecies have been grouped into 5 evolutionary branches according to the genetic structure. As an agronomical species of interest, the natural distribution of A. mellifera subspecies has been disturbed for many decades by beekeeping activities, particularly because of international trade of honeybees (ex.: colonies, queens, drones). These movements, which tend to homogenize the diversity, were particularly amplified this last decade due to livestock rebuilding to counter the effects of colony losses. An interesting assumption is that current honeybee declines observed in European apiaries can be caused by commercial and European trades of honeybees by (i) the introduction (for their apicultural traits) of non- adapted and artificially maintained colonies, and (ii) the spread of allochtone and invasive pathogens carried by allochtones bees. Genetic surveys have demonstrated that some populations of honeybee subspecies are adapted to local climate and flora. Those populations thus constitute particularly interesting populations to study and preserve in a context of sustainable beekeeping. The aim of our proposal is to set up, according to a North/South gradient, genetic conservatories of original naturally distributed honeybee populations. These honeybee conservation areas will have as missions: (i) to characterize the genetic and eco-ethologic diversity of honeybees from the West-Mediterranean lineage, (ii) to preserve the genetic diversity of those populations, (iii) to constitute a reserve of diversity usable by the honeybee industry and by beekeepers, (iv) to study the impact of the domesticated honeybee in the maintenance of local floristic diversity, and (v) to be able to use the honeybee as a bio-collector and as a biological indicator of environmental quality. Our Proposal thus comprises several parts which join to form a unit based on research on genetic and behavioral diversity of local honeybee populations and more applied aiming at answering a societal problem which is the conservation of a key species for the environment and human being. We will perform an impact study (using morphological and molecular tools) to determine if each area is appropriate or not for the conservation of honeybee populations, and we will monitor the spatio-temporal dynamics of key parasites involved in the arms race in each studied area (i.e. Varroa, virus, microsporodia, and bacteria).

Duration 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2017
Website visit project website
Network BiodivERsA2
Call Promoting Synergies and Reducing Trade-offs Between Food Supply, Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (Joint Call between BiodivERs and FACCE-JPI)

Project partner

Number Name Role Country
National Center for Scientific Research - Laboratoire Evolution, génomes, comportement et écologie Coordinator France
National Center for Scientific Research - Laboratoire Microorganismes, Génome et Environnement France
National Centre for Scientific Research - Chizé Centre for Biological Studies France
Polytechnic Institute of Braganca Portugal
University of the Basque Country Spain