Project: Monitoring the Mediterranean Honey Bee subspecies and their resilience to climate change for the improvement of sustainable agro-ecosystems

Duration 01/05/2021 - 30/04/2025
Project Topic The honeybee (Apis mellifera) is a human-managed insect playing a pivotal role in crop and wild plant pollination. Thanks to its activity, crops improve qualitative and quantitatively and plants protect themselves against pests. FAO estimated that approximately one-third of all plants or plant products consumed by humans and used for animal feeding depend directly or indirectly on bee pollination. Additionally, honeybees produce honey -a traditional Mediterranean food- and other products. Beekeeping provides subsistence to hundreds of thousands of beekeepers in the Mediterranean area. This activity is supported by a range of different native subspecies, which evolved as a result of environmental selection. Actions directed to the conservation of A. mellifera subspecies in the Mediterranean are expected to promote quantity and quality of crops, with a direct increase in food availability, therefore contributing to tackling the problem of food security in an efficient, cost-effective and sustainable way. Climate change is expected to increase the stress factors affecting honeybees, especially in the Mediterranean, reducing both pollination efficiency and production potential. Unfortunately, our ability to tackle this problem is limited by our incomplete understanding of the adaptation mechanisms developed by the different subspecies. The goals of the MEDIBEES project are to a) unravel the differential genetic background of the Mediterranean subspecies, b) understand their adaptation to the local conditions, c) assess their conservation status, and d) assess their resilience to climate change. Besides, the valorisation of honey and beekeeping by-products will be approached to help the beekeepers improve both income and sustainability of their activity. The project includes 9 partners from 8 Mediterranean countries, covering a remarkable and poorly understood proportion of A. mellifera genetic diversity, i.e. 10 local subspecies adapted to highly diverse environmental conditions of the region. To reach the objectives, a large-scale sampling encompassing the natural distribution of subspecies and a wide variety of environments (WP2) will be performed to allow genome-wide scans (WP4). Also, both phenotype of colonies belonging to local subspecies and environmental conditions will be monitored in apiaries across the Mediterranean and these will serve simultaneously experimental and demonstrational purposes (WP2). Laboratory assays exposing individual bees from the experimental apiaries to the main stressors will allow us to comparatively evaluate the subspecies adaptation and understand how individual traits convert into colony resilience. This will be approached by studies covering survival, resistance to pathogens, behaviour, physiology, and reproduction using gene expression, transcriptomic assays (WP3) and genomics (WP4). The collected samples will be genotyped with a 10k high-density SNP chip herein developed. The genotypic data promises to advance our current understanding on adaptation and resilience to environmental stressors and on the conservation status of A. mellifera. This effort will encourage the use of local subspecies and set the baseline for future breeding programs. At the same time, characterization of honeys will help promote local productions. The potential use in agriculture of beekeeping organic by-products will evaluate their effect on soil fertility and biota. MEDIBEES will generate new knowledge on the genetics of bees and their adaptation to climate change, develop new genetic tools to promote the selection of resilient A. mellifera breeds, train beekeepers (directly involved in the project) to valorise beekeeping products and by-products. Knowledge and tools developed will be shared between the partners, to increase the laboratory expertise in each country. These actions will contribute to guarantee food security, nutrition, health, wellbeing, and mitigate migration problems upstream.
Project Results
(after finalisation)
Generation of new insights on differential vulnerability and resilience of the Mediterranean honey bee subspecies to the main environmental stressors typical of the region. Defining advantageous adaptations of local subspecies. Helping tackle the problem of the introduction of foreign subspecies/strains into the Mediterranean region, so serving the efforts to preserve locally adapted breeds. Improvement of honey bee biodiversity, promoting the use of local subspecies, some of which are threatened. Contribution to creating new trade opportunities by the commerce of selected breeds of local subspecies. Establishing the basis for introducing criteria of environmental resilience in honey bee breeding programs. Promotion of strains that are more resilient to climate change as those honey bees would exploit the environmental resources better, reducing loss rates. Development of Novel panels of SNPs (highly dense multi-subspecies SNP-chip: MediB-Chip XK) as advanced genetic tools to support a genetic selection of Mediterranean honey bee subspecies for resilience to climate change of which in the longer term may also benefit subspecies native to more northerly latitudes. Determination on the differential quality of the honey produced by each subspecies in those locations where comparisons are possible. Development of a new tool for honey characterization Development of Panels of experts on sensory analysis to help the beekeepers promote their honey. Supporting the development of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or Geographical Indication (GI) to increase the economic value of honey. Making the honey production more competitive in the local market. Testing beekeeping by-products capability to foster the beneficial soil nematofauna, with a focus on agroecosystem environments to increase soil fertility and to contribute to the circular economy. Increase profitability for the survival of the apiculture industry by the valorization of the honey bee products (honey) and their by-products. Increase the know-how in each participating country. Dissemination about the advances in this project directed to other partners, scientists, beekeepers, consumers and general public, also involving woman in the process. Improvement the beekeeper production systems in the Mediterranean in a resilient, efficient and cost-effective fashion, and according to principles of environmental and social sustainability. To guarantee this farming activity in order to contribute to food security as this activity increases crop production by improving the biodiversity of crops and wild plants, prevents the overexploitation of natural resources and therefore contributing to sustainable agriculture.
Network PRIMA
Call Section 1 Call 2020 - Farming Systems (A)

Project partner

Number Name Role Country
2 M"hamed Bougara University of Boumerdès, Faculty of Science, Partner Algeria
3 Consiglio per la ricerca in agricoltura e l'analisi dell'economia agraria Partner Italy
4 National Agricultural Research Center Partner Jordan
5 Jordanian Beekeepers Union Partner Jordan
6 Lebanese University, Faculty of Agriculture Partner Lebanon
7 University of Malta, Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, Partner Malta
8 Centro de Investigação de Montanha Partner Portugal
9 University of Namik Kemal, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine Partner Turkey