Genetic diversity could be key to survival of honeybee colonies

June 17, 2013 at 3:45 PM
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RALEIGH, N.C., June 17 (UPI) -- Genetic diversity, based on how many times a queen bee mates, could be key to the survival of honeybee colonies, U.S. researchers suggest.

A study from North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture found 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," North Carolina entomology Professor David Tarpy said in a university release Monday.

"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."

Genetic samples taken from 80 commercial colonies of honeybees in the eastern United States showed colonies where the queen had mated at least seven times were 2.86 times more likely to survive the 10-month "working season" season of a colony.

Forty-eight percent of colonies with queens who had mated at least seven times were still alive at the end of the season while only 17 percent of the less genetically diverse colonies survived, the study found.

"Forty-eight percent survival is still an alarmingly low survival rate, but it's far better than 17 percent," Tarpy said.

"This study confirms that genetic diversity is enormously important in honey bee populations. And it also offers some guidance to beekeepers about breeding strategies that will help their colonies survive."

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