A NEW study from North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that genetic diversity is key to survival of honeybee colonies; a colony is less likely to survive if its queen has had a limited number of mates.
"We wanted to determine whether a colony's genetic diversity has an impact on its survival and what that impact may be," said Dr. David Tarpy, an associate professor of entomology at North Carolina State University and lead author of a paper describing the study. "We knew genetic diversity affected survival under controlled conditions but wanted to see if it held true in the real world and, if so, how much diversity is needed to significantly improve a colony's odds of surviving."
Tarpy took genetic samples from 80 commercial colonies of honeybees (Apis mellifera) in the eastern U.S. to assess each colony's genetic diversity, which reflects the number of males a colony's queen has mated with. The more mates a queen had, the higher the genetic diversity in the colony.
The researchers then tracked the health of the colonies on an almost monthly basis over the course of 10 months, which is a full working "season" for commercial bee colonies.
According to the announcement, the researchers found that colonies in which the queen had mated at least seven times were 2.86 times more likely to survive the 10-month working season. Specifically, 48% of colonies with queens that had mated at least seven times were still alive at the end of the season, whereas only 17% of the less genetically diverse colonies survived.
"Forty-eight percent survival is still an alarmingly low survival rate, but it's far better than 17%," Tarpy said. "This study confirms that genetic diversity is enormously important in honeybee populations. It also offers some guidance to beekeepers about breeding strategies that will help their colonies survive."
The paper, "Genetic Diversity Affects Colony Survivorship in Commercial Honey Bee Colonies," was published online in the journal Naturwissenschaften. Co-authors of the study are Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp of the University of Maryland and Dr. Jeffery Pettis of USDA.