from the survival-of-the-fittest dept.
A new genetics study of wild honeybees offers clues to how a population has adapted to a mite that has devastated bee colonies worldwide. The findings may aid beekeepers and bee breeders to prevent future honeybee declines.
The researchers genetically analyzed museum samples collected from wild honeybee colonies in 1977 and 2010; the bees came from Cornell University's Arnot Forest. In comparing genomes from the two time periods, the results – published Aug. 6 in Nature Communications – show clear evidence that the wild honeybee colonies experienced a genetic bottleneck - a loss of genetic diversity - when the Varroa destructor mites killed most of the bee colonies. But some colonies survived, allowing the population to rebound.
"The study is a unique and powerful contribution to understanding how honeybees have been impacted by the introduction of Varroa destructor, and how, if left alone, they can evolve resistance to this deadly parasite," said Thomas Seeley, the Horace White Professor in Biology at Cornell and the paper's senior author. Sasha Mikheyev '00 [sic], an assistant professor of ecology and evolution at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) in Japan, is the paper's first author.
More after the break.
"The paper is also a clear demonstration of the importance of museum collections, in this case the Cornell University Insect Collection, and the importance of wild places, such as Cornell's Arnot Forest," Seeley added.
In the 1970s, Seeley surveyed the population of wild colonies of honeybees (Apis mellifera) in Arnot Forest, and found 2.5 colonies per square mile. By the early 1990s, V. destructor mites had spread across the U.S. to New York state and were devastating bee colonies. The mites infest nursery cells in honeybee nests and feed on developing bees while also transferring virulent viruses.
A 2002 survey of Arnot Forest by Seeley revealed the same abundance of bee colonies as in the late 1970s, suggesting that either new colonies from beekeepers' hives had repopulated the area, or that the existing population had undergone strong natural selection and came out with good resistance.
By 2010, advances in DNA technology, used previously to stitch together fragmented DNA from Neanderthal samples, gave Mikheyev, Seeley and colleagues the tools for whole-genome sequencing and comparing museum and modern specimens.
The results revealed a huge loss in diversity of mitochondrial genes, which are passed from one generation to the next only through the female lineage. This shows that the wild population of honeybees experienced a genetic bottleneck. Such bottlenecks arise when few individuals reproduce, reducing the gene pool. "Maybe only four or five queens survived and repopulated the forest," Seeley said.
With the advent of Colony Collapse Disorder early this millennium, and the resulting drops in bee populations across the USA, Europe, and Asia, people and organizations have been making efforts to house, protect and nurture honeybee populations for the sake of their crops, the good of the environment, or as a service to humanity at large.
Use of the land for the bees destroyed was donated by a private citizen and the location is visible to the road so passers by can watch and enjoy the bee keepers working with the bees.
Then we get people that do things like this:
Over the weekend, someone set fire to two dozen bee colonies in Alvin, Texas belonging to the Brazoria County Beekeepers Association. The perpetrator also dumped some of the bee boxes into a nearby pond.
According to one of the beekeepers:
I broke down in tears when I saw a floating brood frame in the water with bees still caring for the brood.
It is expected that the perpetrators were very likely stung and the community is on the lookout for individuals with bee stings.
Perhaps more remarkably, this is not a completely new idea. Multiple Facebook comments speak of past attacks on bees elsewhere attributed to teenagers and rival bee keepers.
We've already seen bees persevering through fire and smoke, according to beekeepers the surviving bees are stressed and many will have lost their queens, but is also possible some hives will survive.
Previous coverage of Bee troubles:
Some Honeybee Colonies Adapt in Wake of Deadly Mites
Backyard Beekeeping Now Legal in Los Angeles
Honeybees Pick Up 'Astonishing' Number of Pesticides Via Non-crop Plants
Bees Dead from Aerial Zika Spraying in South Carolina
Pesticide Companies' Own Secret Tests Showed Their Products Harm Bees
Extensive Study Concludes Neonicotinoid Pesticides Harm Bees
EU Bans Outdoor Use of Pesticides That Harm Bees