The natural range of the Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) covers the whole of Europe, Africa and the Middle East but natural barriers and evolutionary pressures over millions of years have ensured that several distinct races, or sub-species, have developed. This has resulted in about 24 recognised races, all adapted to their particular region
Our own sub-species, Apis mellifera mellifera (or Dark European Honey Bee), is characterised by its ability to thrive in relatively cool, windy and wet conditions where other races are less suitable. Unfortunately it is close to extinction in its pure form due to about 150 years of bee imports from overseas. Due to their poor adaptation to our conditions, imported bees require more management input such as feeding and swarm control and when they breed with our local bees the resultant hybridised generations often exhibit unpredictable behaviour such as aggression, poor ability to cope with the demands of the local environment and excessive colony mortality. Furthermore diseases and parasites that have been imported with bees from the European continent are thought to have caused the extinction of wild honey bee colonies and the subsequent loss of their pollination services. Hence the plant pollination provided by honey bees that is of vital importance to the natural environment is now provided by managed colonies alone.
To try to improve this situation members of the South Clwyd Beekeepers Association work together to breed from the purest of the local native stocks. A great deal of our effort concerns finding and testing the purity of the best bees in our region and so hence we are very pleased to work with Bangor University who are able to speed up the process by applying scientific selection techniques such as DNA analysis. A recent study by Bangor University Keller Harris Cross Study has shown that despite strenuous efforts of beekeepers in North East Wales the purity of bees is continuing to decline. There is no shortage of motivation among beekeepers to remedy this situation but scientific assistance is urgently required in order to reverse the decline before it is too late. This should result in the success that has been demonstrated in parts of continental Europe where academic institutions have lent support to local breeding programmes to improve purity and hence resilience of local honey bee ecotypes.
What your donation will mean
One of Bangor’s projects is to test the DNA of bee samples that we are collecting from all over the region. This project is of vital importance to the local bee improvement programme but it requires a proportion of its funding from sources outside the University. It is estimated that around £3000 will be needed for this project but it is hoped that ongoing cooperation between the University and the local beekeepers’ associations will continue into the future.
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