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Extinction of Melipona beecheii and traditional beekeeping in the Yucatán Peninsula


Abstract and Figures

Rearing of the ‘xunan-kab’ bee (Melipona beecheii) had been practised widely by the Mayans of the Yucatán peninsula long before arrival of the Spanish in the New World, and had been a culturally and economically important activity in that region. Melipona beecheii is kept almost exclusively in traditional log hives. Beekeepers using this bee, from the Mayan zone in Quintana Roo state, Mexico, testify to a 93% decrease in hives during the past one-quarter century. Despite concern that stingless bee keeping is going extinct, there were scant data to examine direct impact of competition from feral African Apis mellifera, deforestation, hurricane damage and lack of instruction and incentive for new stingless bee keepers.We therefore made a survey of beekeepers constituting 20% of the largest traditional beekeeping group in the Americas. These data combined with our field studies, taken over 24 years, suggest that bees are threatened both by environmental changes and by inappropriate management and conservation efforts. Overharvest and failure to transfer colonies to hives or divide them are serious impediments. The major tactics to confront these problems are presented.
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Original article Bee World 86(2): 35-41 (2005) | June 2005 | Bee World | 35
A series of papers published during the last
quarter century show a downturn in stingless
bee keeping in at least part of the Yucatán
peninsula, and attempt to analyse the
causes.10,19,20,27,46 Long before arrival of the
Spanish in the New World and subsequent
introduction of a major honey resource from
the Old World (honey bees – Apis mellifera),
the Maya of the Yucatán peninsula were
expert practitioners in husbandry of various
native honey-making stingless bees, which
were kept in log hives. Today and, we suspect,
during historical beekeeping times, those bees
used most for food and materials are the
large-bodied meliponines, Cephalotrigona,
Melipona and Scaptotrigona.3,27,37 Because of its
ease of management (the large forager size,
ight range and numerous virgin queens for
colony propagation are a particular asset of
Melipona) and excellent honey production,
the favourite species has been Melipona
beecheii, known by its keepers as ‘xunan-kab’
or ‘colel-kab’.27 It was apparently the only bee
propagated using husbandry techniques in the
whole of the tropical world. These bees were
particularly important to the Maya civilization
for medicines (antibiotic honey), sweeteners
and mead (balche), and a vital small-scale
economy. These bees even provided
metaphors for the Maya, whereby they
interpreted their place in the universe and
relationship to the earth, deities, and later, to
the Spanish invaders.8,39 Xunan-kab were
regarded as a gift from the gods to
humankind and therefore were handled with
utmost care and reverence by trained
Melipona beecheii is one of several hundred
bee species – almost all tropical meliponines
– that produce abundant honey.21This bee’s
natural range is from Mexico to Costa Rica.3
Originally a resident of tropical lowland
forests, it was dependent on the variety and
cycles of the forest resources, for example a
major owering period and honey storage
during the dry season, followed by a dearth
of nectar and pollen during the wettest part
of the year, or in prolonged drought.29,45
Over the centuries, the Yucatán peninsula has
been deforested, rst by the Maya and later
particularly in the western and central
portion, where agave, sisal and cattle ranching
replaced forest, as its people became more
involved in plantation schemes or cultural and
economic alternatives to traditional slash and
burn ‘milpas’ agriculture. As a result, xunan-
kab (literally, the ‘royal lady’ bee) forage
largely among secondary-growth plants.42,44 At
both large- and small-scale, Apis mellifera,
despite its sting, was economically a better
option for many, as it was not commonly
associated with relatively low productivity and
low income.27 Hence the Mayan stingless bee
lost its place as provider of a sweetener (to
sugar cane and to Apis mellifera) and to
modern pharmaceuticals as a provider of
medicine. It now continually competes with
Apis mellifera for oral resources and nesting
sites, and has lost, due to modern cultural
changes, central signicance in Mayan customs
and beliefs. Nonetheless, a potential boost to
the local economy may yet come from the re-
establishment of a vigorous meliponiculture in
Yucatán.27 Because there were no published
long-term data that examine the biology and
impact of competition from introduced feral
African Apis mellifera, deforestation, hurricane
damage, natural enemies, lack of instruction
for new stingless bee keepers, or attendant
lack of economic incentives for traditional
stingless bee keeping, we therefore made a
direct inquiry with a survey of beekeepers
Extinction of
Melipona beecheii
and traditional beekeeping in
the Yucatán peninsula
Rearing of the ‘xunan-kab’ bee (Melipona beecheii) had been practised widely by the Mayans of the Yucatán peninsula long before arrival of the Spanish in
the New World, and had been a culturally and economically important activity in that region. Melipona beecheii is kept almost exclusively in traditional
log hives. Beekeepers using this bee, from the Mayan zone in Quintana Roo state, Mexico, testify to a 93% decrease in hives during the past one-quarter
century. Despite concern that stingless bee keeping is going extinct, there were scant data to examine direct impact of competition from feral African Apis
mellifera, deforestation, hurricane damage and lack of instruction and incentive for new stingless bee keepers. We therefore made a survey of beekeepers
constituting 20% of the largest traditional beekeeping group in the Americas. These data combined with our field studies, taken over 24 years, suggest
that bees are threatened both by environmental changes and by inappropriate management and conservation efforts. Overharvest and failure to transfer
colonies to hives or divide them are serious impediments. The major tactics to confront these problems are presented.
FIG. 1. Map of the study area in the
southeastern state of Quintana Roo,
Mexico, and the Maya zone, in which
meliponiculture was monitored.
and long-term focal studies in the relatively
forested area of eastern Yucatán peninsula, in
the state of Quintana Roo. We note both
similarities and differences, compared with
the previous work of a considerable number
of authors.
Melipona beecheii is apparently rare in the
wild, even in forested areas,14although
tropical studies on stingless bee or honey bee
nest abundance are surprisingly scarce.16Its
nests occur only in hollows within now
relatively rare trees, of 30 cm girth.27 At the
same time, the traditional practice of
propagating domesticated colonies is not
being taken up by younger generations of
Maya. In short, apart from the sustaining
efforts of a handful of enthusiasts,
meliponiculture, or stingless bee keeping, at
least in the areas that long have been
deforested, is disappearing.11,20,27 Several
institutions, business ventures, and non-
government organizations are attempting to
develop stingless bee keeping. As discussed
here, we have observed stingless bee keeping
efforts commonly fail in the Maya region, and
transplanted colonies are lost due to varied
reasons. Moreover, the large number of
colonies lost recently by meliponiculturists
and beekeepers in the states of Yucatán and
Campeche, after hurricane Isidore, may well
be irreplaceable.11 The objective of this work
was to analyse the biological problems related
to the maintenance and management of
Melipona beecheii in the relatively well-
forested portion of the Yucatán peninsula,
and determine reasons why populations have
declined greatly within Mayan communities.
To compile data which enabled us to evaluate
the trends in stingless bee keeping, we took
stock of overall changes at the end of 2004 in
Quintana Roo state, Mexico, in an area
known as the ‘zona Maya’ (g. 1). A standard
set of questions was asked in the Mayan
language of meliponiculturists in the region.
The data were assembled after rst making a
census of all Mayan communities with more
than 50 inhabitants, for which population
data15were available. A total of 150
communities were thus identied, and 120
stingless bee keepers were found among
36 | June 2005 | Bee World
TABLE 1. Number of Melipona beecheii hives that beekeepers from the zona Maya have kept in the last 54 years.
Name of Name of beekeeper No. of hives kept No. of hives kept No. of hives kept
Mayan community or institution between 1950 and at end of 1990 at end of 2004
end of 1981
Chan Santa Cruz Delno Naal unknown 8 2
Chan Santa Cruz Nemesio Pot unknown 128
Chancá de Repente Bernardo Peûa 42 25 8
Chancá de Repente Anastasio Pérez unknown 100
Chancá de Repente Eduardo Yam unknown 5 0
Chunyá Patricio Canul 45 30 8
Felipe Carrillo Puerto Inst. Nacional Indigenista 0 40 8
Miztequilla Santiago Pat unknown 6 2
Miztequilla Fernando Yam 40 198
Naranjal Francisco Cimá 25 153
Naranjal Juán Mena 26 126
Nueva LorÍa Celestino Camal unknown 7 2
Nuevo Israel Ponciano Tun unknown 6 0
Palmas Margarito Tuz 220 5 0
Presidente Juárez Bernabé Kantún unknown 164
San Hermenegildo Humberto Ku Cauichl 60 40 0
Santa MarÍa Francisco HuiCab 50 37 7
Seûor Doroteo Pech 22 180
Seûor José Pott unknown 6 0
Tihosuco Pedro Cahun Uh unknown 5 12
Tuzic Isidro Peûa Tuz 200 40 8
X hazil Modesto Chuc 1070
X hazil IsaÍas Cahuich 15100
Yo Actún Rancho San MartÍn unknown 104
Totals likely >1000 389 90
them. Previous work by Quezada-Euán and
colleagues27 estimated that there were fewer
than 500 stingless bee keepers in all of
Yucatán. We took a random sample of 24
beekeepers in the zona Maya (20%) and asked
the questions in our standard questionnaire in
1985, 1990 and 2004. The meliponiculturists
questioned were not strictly beekeepers and
none had much formal education or
economic means. Some examples of the
questions asked were:
‘How did you obtain your xunan-kab
‘How many did you inherit?’
‘How many do you have?’
‘Who taught you to manage the colonies?’
‘Do you use ‘rational hives’ (wooden box
‘How many log hives and rational hives do
you have?’
‘Do you divide (propagate) your colonies?’
‘How much honey do you produce?’
‘Where or to whom do you sell it?’
In addition, we conducted further interviews
on the general state of stingless bee keeping,
including both local and statewide problems.
Periodically (every two or three months)
beginning in 1985 we interviewed ve
stingless bee keepers in order to learn of
specic bee management problems. These
were open-ended interviews in which key
questions were asked, such as:
‘What management problems have been
‘Have you divided your colonies?’
‘Why have your colonies been weak or in
poor condition?’
‘What are the main reasons you are losing
your colonies?’
Thus, our study attempted to assess the
strengths and weaknesses of meliponiculture
under present conditions, threats and
opportunities related to honey production.
Decline of meliponiculture activity
Table 1shows results from the 24 traditional
meliponiculturists that were interviewed in
the zona Maya of Quintana Roo, indicating
the numbers of Melipona colonies kept at the
end of 1981, 1990 and 2004. The most
alarming ndings were that, out of the total
number of domesticated colonies (755)
known to be held in 1981, and probably
hundreds more for which no precise records
were offered by the participants, only 90 have
survived or have been replaced. If we
consider only the meliponaries (‘bee yards’,
g. 2) in which the number of hives present in
1981was stated by the participants, then the
decline between 1981and 2004 has been one
of over 93%.
Furthermore, nine out of the 24 questioned
no longer had any colonies, a notable
phenomenon within the last 14 years. Clearly,
the keepers of xunan-kab either cannot
maintain their colonies adequately, or they
lack sufcient reasons to keep them. Such
individuals may not have found a successor to
properly care for the colonies, and they have
failed to replace colonies lost due to
mortality. For the last 14 years the stingless
bee keepers have been losing, on average,
about 22 colonies each year. Continuing that
trend, by the year 2008 there will be no
domesticated colonies left at all. Only Pedro
Cahun-Uh, a meliponiculturist from Tihosuco,
increased his colonies from 5 to 12 (table 1).
He also divided three to produce three more,
using wooden box hives. He was the only
beekeeper who was successful in such
husbandry efforts. None of the other
meliponiculturists used box hives, but rather
used traditional hollow log hives, or ‘jobones’.
Signicantly, many beekeepers were reluctant
to risk losing their colonies to parasitic
phorid ies, Pseudohypocera or ‘nenem’, which
often attack and kill colonies that have been
moved or disturbed by opening of the nest
All Melipona colonies, except four belonging
to Nemesio Pot from Chan Santa Cruz, were
inherited either from the fathers or the
grandfathers. Mr Pot obtained ve of his log
hives from wild colonies in the forest.
Loss of habitat
The peninsula of Yucatán (the states of
Yucatán, Quintana Roo and Campeche), once
covered with mature tropical forests
(although not in some periods before the
arrival of Europeans12), has been deforested
extensively in modern times. In the state of
Yucatán, land reform programmes of the
1930s, cattle ranching, logging and large-scale
cultivation of agave plants for production of
sisal have resulted in nearly complete
deforestation of that state.27 The less
populous states of Campeche and Quintana
Roo have been less affected.
Although the nectar and pollen plants that
now predominate in the zona Maya appear to
be quite useful to Apis mellifera (171pollen
species used by the exotic honey bee have
been recorded recently40,41,45), it is reasonable
to expect that, for native bees, signicant
adjustments were needed in response to the
changes of ora resulting from human
activities, both in historical times and more
recently. However, logging, even if it is not
clear-cutting, reduces forest habitat by felling
large trees that contain Melipona nests, and at
the same time removes suitable, unoccupied
nesting sites. If there are no new natural
colonies accessible to the beekeeper, hived
colonies lost to natural causes, such as
predators or hurricanes, cannot be replaced.
At the same time, many beekeepers report
colonies are dying from a lack of food. They
observe their colonies have less and less
honey, most notably in the seasons of
reduced owering. We also observed
colonies diminishing in size until no longer
viable, often succumbing under attacks of
ants, phorid ies, toads or Eira barbara
(‘tayra’, a Neotropical weasel); this happened
mainly with colonies that were not checked
Competition between
Melipona beecheii
Africanized honey bees
The extent to which the colonies of Melipona
beecheii are in decline is difcult to determine.
Many factors are involved, such as reduced or
changing oral resources and whether they
are unable to forage such resources because
of competition from Apis mellifera, which also
compete for nesting sites.26,28. We see the
need for further investigations into these and
other factors, such as effects of pesticides or
changes in annual rainfall patterns,36 and
associated drought and owering. However,
there are marked inuences on
meliponiculture and bee foraging that
coincide with the rst arrival of Africanized
honey bees in the late 1980s.
An understanding of competition between
bees and its result cannot be resolved with
short-term eld studies, but, rather, requires
population and community studies. The
question of honey bee impact on native bees
in natural habitats has thus been the subject
of long-term research programmes, by DWR
and collaborators, in French Guiana, Panama June 2005 | Bee World | 37
For the last 14 years the stingless bee keepers have been losing,
on average, about 22 colonies each year.
Continuing that trend, by the year 2008 there will be no
domesticated colonies left at all.
and in the present work.5,31,36 In the Yucatán
peninsula, there is a case to be made that
domesticated Melipona beecheii, often kept in
the highly disturbed habitats that surround
Maya villages, but also surviving naturally in
the relatively intact forests of Quintana Roo,
has undergone a population reduction due to
competition with honey bees at owers. The
degree of competition for oral resources
from Apis mellifera (now Africanized) depends
on availability of resources and general
abundance of honey bees. After their arrival,
18 years ago,40,43 Africanized honey bees
appear now to saturate their habitats.28,29,36,45
Xunan-kab foragers most often visit the
owers of shrubs and trees,42,44 rather than
low vegetation such as herbaceous plants,
while Apis bees visit all of the above.40,41At the
end of the dry season there are few or no
blossoming herbs.40,41,44 Competition is then
potentially more intense for the blossoms of
shrubs and trees.44 Particularly interesting are
observations that Melipona appear to
abandon resources where out-competed by
other foraging bees, including exotic
Africanized honey bees.4,5,29 Meliponiculturists
in Tepich, Quintana Roo, reported lower
honey production by their Melipona bees
when neighbours begin keeping Apis mellifera.8
At the same time, since the arrival of
Africanized honey bees, the surrounding
habitat is now for the rst time lled with
honey bees. This is in stark contrast to the
scattered apiaries where European honey
bees were once kept in Yucatán and where
there was no widespread, naturalized, feral
population of Apis mellifera, typical for
Africanized bees in neotropical lowlands.32,33
Indigenous hunters of stingless bees in the
Amazon basin also observed decreased honey
from their bees after colonization by
Africanized honey bees, but after 20 years
‘production’ levels normalized, presumably as
population densities of Africanized honey
bees decreased or the local bees adapted.26
Long-term decline in managed bee populations
The reasons for the rapid decline, especially
colony mortality and decline, in the xunan-
kab have not been examined in detail by the
scientic or conservation communities, or
voiced by many scientic authors or students
of Mayan culture and society. Economic
replacement by Apis mellifera is not an issue
that requires further discussion and is
seemingly resolved.10,20,27 Here we focus on
biological and ecological factors and list the
insights gleaned from several publications in
the list of references cited here, in addition to
recommendations that can be made as a
result of our ongoing studies in Quintana
The keepers of xunan-kab report that their
bees are starving. Honey production and
colony size diminish until the bees can no
longer defend themselves from natural
enemies, or survive the normal or unusual
dearth periods. The lack of food stores within
the nest is often attributed to scarcity of
resources due to deforestation27 in
conjunction with competition at oral
resources from Africanized Apis mellifera.5,8,28
However, the loss of colonies may also be
attributed to the overharvesting of honey,30 as
we have observed in most of the Mayan
communities where meliponiculture is
practiced. Beekeepers, in order to meet
commercial goals, offset the low honey stores
in their hives by increased harvest intensity –
clearly a counterproductive practice.
As already stated by other authors, there is
little economic incentive to continue keeping
xunan-kab and solve the discouraging
problems it faces. Xunan-kab colonies now
38 | June 2005 | Bee World
FIG. 2. A stingless bee keeper from the community of San Hermenegildo harvesting honey from his colony.
produce an average of two kg of honey each
year,1compared with 20 or 30 kg produced
by Apis mellifera colonies in the region (and
averages of 130 kg by well-managed
Africanized honey bee colonies in heavily
forested French Guiana (B Gautier, D W
Roubik, personal observation). Our
collaborators in San Hermenegildo, Quintana
Roo (table 1), indicated that, up until the
1980s, honey could be harvested from
Melipona beecheii as often as ve times a year.
The testimony from this Mayan village is
telling. In the early 1990s, three years of poor
honey harvest were followed by complete
harvest in 1993 of all honey stores of all
colonies (30 lbs.). One new colony was
brought in from the forest in 1994, and then
nearly all colonies died or were sold to
research groups shortly thereafter. This village
had 40 colonies when we began our work,
and now it has none.
Although the honey of xunan-kab has been
analysed and used for medicinal purposes by
local people, this knowledge has not spread
far from scientic circles and local
recognition, and more research is required in
this eld.22 The specic problems for securing
a market for stingless bee honey are many.
First, the Codex Alimentarius allows only honey
from Apis mellifera to be marketed for human
consumption in Europe.7Second, hygienic
standards are not always applied to harvesting
procedures for stingless bee colonies, which
results in lower quality and marketability of
the honey. Third, there has been little
concerted strategy for the marketing of
xunan-kab honey. This honey is sold in small
bottles (0.5 litre) in the local markets and
within the community where the
meliponiculturists live, where it derives no
added value. Finally, there remains the
question of capacity for fullling a steady
market demand. There are now few
knowledgeable beekeepers to continue the
tradition of meliponiculture or to replace the
older beekeepers. The younger potential
beekeepers are understandably prot-
motivated. Many are familiar with
management of Apis mellifera and no longer
appreciate the cultural or ecological value of
keeping ‘old-fashioned’ traditions alive. Mayan
villages are becoming depopulated as
inhabitants pursue opportunities in cities and
tourism areas like Cancún and Playa del
Carmen. The techniques and knowledge
necessary to maintain and propagate colonies
are not being passed on effectively, in either
an informal or a formal process of technology
transfer, despite excellent published literature
on meliponiculture, including extensive
illustrations, although only recently has a
guide been published in the Mayan
language.6,13,17,23,24,25,38,42 According to Mayan June 2005 | Bee World | 39
FIG. 3. The stingless bee Xunan kab, Melipona beecheii and its log hives kept by 120 Maya
stingless bee keepers studied among 150 villages accurring in the Maya zone of Quintana
Roo, Mexico.
FIG. 4. Melipona beecheii colonies should be tight up to the internal structure of the
‘palapa’ (a bee house made with wood and palms), to protect them against the strong
winds of hurricanes.
beekeepers that we have interviewed, this
break began about 50 years ago. A result is
that well-intentioned yet untrained persons
or organizations, many familiar with Apis
mellifera only, obtain colonies of xunan-kab,
but then lose them out of carelessness, or
out of ignorance of the dangers faced by
these bees.
The Yucatán peninsula sits square in the path
of trade winds carrying low pressure systems.
In June to November those winds may
develop into hurricanes. Nearly every year
some area of the peninsula suffers hurricane
or tropical storm damage. A survey of
meliponiculturists in the state of Yucatán at
the end of 2002 revealed an almost complete
loss of meliponaries affected by oods
brought by hurricane Isidore.11,42 Colonies
surviving in other areas faced oral depletion
caused by hurricane winds – literally all
owers and buds were blown off the trees.
Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, Roxan and Opal in
1995, and Mitch in 1998, also severely
affected both meliponiculture and apiculture
of the peninsula. After a hurricane there is
generally a drought that places the xunan-kab
bees under food (nectar and pollen) stress,
and limits their nest building activity (nests
are made and modied with soft mud), and
their populations decrease.
Studies of traditional stingless bee keeping in
Yucatán conducted in the 1950s–1970s make
no mention of a decline in bee abundance or
honey production,46 but a decline was noted,
without a causal analysis, at the end of the
1980s.19In the study presented here,
approximately 20% of the stingless bee
keepers in the zona Maya of the south-
eastern Yucatán peninsula reported that over
90% of their colonies of xunan-kab had
perished in the last 25 years. The losses were
probably more drastic for the past half
century (table 1). The numbers of natural
colonies has also dwindled. We have no data
to rank the relative importance of exotic
honey bee competition, habitat erosion,
natural enemy attack, or waning management
and husbandry practices. All are implicated,
however. Ironically, with the objective of
developing meliponiculture and pollinator
‘conservation’, non-governmental and
governmental organizations and institutions
have purchased hives from traditional stingless
bee keepers. These have been placed with
inexperienced individuals, which we believe
constitute yet another mortality factor. We
therefore suggest that training and
management efforts are best directed at
established stingless bee keepers able to
propagate their colonies.
There are many benets from preserving the
xunan-kab tradition. Not only will an
important member of the ecological
community and pollinator of diverse plant and
tree species2,27 be spared local extinction, but
a public awareness of the importance of the
forest and its biodiversity can be focused on a
native species with a long and distinguished
local history.31Xunan-kab are among the few
native organisms that possess a widely
acknowledged status as a cultural, economic,
ecological and conservation icon. It is thereby,
as are other well-known bees, a de facto
indicator of environmental health.18,35
To encourage the present efforts to return to
sustainable agro-forestry endeavours and
cottage industries that directly benet the
villages of the zona Maya, we most
emphatically recommend the following
measures to forestall extinction of Melipona
Instructing beekeepers in the construction
and use of hives as well as techniques such
as feeding that will ensure the survival of
existing colonies.
Hive designs permitting easy opening for
inspection and to facilitate articial feeding.
Conservative rather than aggressive honey
harvest from hives.
Adopting regulations concerning limits on
honey bee (Apis mellifera) colony
establishment, with the aim of reducing
honey bee concentrations in areas of
meliponiculture activity.
Legislation to protect forested areas from
complete destruction, especially near
villages and cultivated areas.
Encouraging use of existing protected areas
and reserves as sites for development of
meliponiculture and for re-introduction of
colonies to suitable habitats.
Creation of projects at local level focusing
on both reforestation (or forest
preservation) and meliponiculture.
Researching product diversity and
potentials, specically in the areas of
medicines and cosmetics derived from
stingless bees.
Researching marketing possibilities,
especially in the tourism sector.
Establishing standards for Melipona beecheii
honey, conditions for hygiene, and hive
Introduction of high school, vocational
school and university courses concerning
management of Melipona beecheii and other
stingless bees.
Informing beekeepers about precautions to
be taken in the event of a hurricane.
Creation of an institutionally funded central
bank of colonies and expertise, where new
meliponiculturists will be trained, given
colonies, and expected to propagate those
colonies so that they can return to the
bank the colonies that they have
Communication with loggers requesting
that trees containing nests of Melipona
beecheii be spared or that nests discovered
be given to appropriate organizations.
At this juncture, it would not be out of place
to incite the Mayan ritual of ‘u-hanli-cab’, for
protecting wild bees and the families that
have them.19
We thank El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (College of the
Southern Frontier) and the Smithsonian Institution (Scholarly
Studies grants to DWR) for nancial and logistical support.
We thank Dr Francisco Güemez-Ricalde and especially Scott
Forsythe for advice and valuable additions to the manuscript,
an anonymous reviewer, and Margarito Tuz Novelo and
Guillermina Herrera for their help.
experiencia en meliponicultura moderna con
colmenas racionales: una alternativa para su
rescate y aprovechamiento. Proceedings of the II
Mexican Seminar on stingless bees; UADY, Mérida,
Yucatán, Mexico; pp. 44–49.
2. AGUILAR-MONGE, I (1999) El potencial de las
abejas nativas sin aguijón (Apidae: Meliponinae) en
los sistemas agroforestales. http//www.
3. AYALA, R (1999) Revisión de las abejas sin aguijón
de Mexico (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Meliponini).
Folia Entomol. Mex. 106:1123.
40 | June 2005 | Bee World
This is a ceremony performed by a Mayan
priest called “Men” (in the Mayan
language) twice a year. For this ritual, an
altar is prepared, in which there is an
offering of drinks and meals, then the Men
asks permission from the gods to harvest
the honey. During the ceremony there are
prayers in the Mayan language and several
musicians called “mayapax” play their
instruments while the others are praying,
the whole ceremony takes eight hours to
Note: mayapax is a Mayan musician group
that plays traditional music.
4. BIESMEIJER, J C (1997) The organization of foraging in
stingless bees of the genus Melipona: an individual-
oriented approach. PhD thesis; Department of
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... As a result, Yucatec honey was not accepted for export. Searching for answers, the Mayan beekeepers realized that, over the preceding ten years, genetically modified soy plantations had proliferated around their beehives where forests had previously grown, also destroying the habitat of Meliponas, which were announced as a species in danger of extinction (Villanueva-Gutiérrez et al. 2005, 2013. ...
... At the same time, world-renowned entomologists working in the region also spoke in defense of the bees. Villanueva-Gutiérrez et al. (2005, 2013 announced that Melipona bees were threatened with extinction, and Remy Vandame published and testified in Mexican courts that, contrary to the claims of Monsanto scientists-which were repeated in ¿Qué las pasó a las abejas? by Mennonite farmers during the consultations-bees are indeed affected by GM soy and are threatened by the pesticides used on these plantations (Vides and Vandame 2012). ...
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Since the Green Revolution, the development of agriculture has been measured by the relation between the chemical input (fertilizers and pesticides) and yield. Other factors, such as deforestation, water pollution, biodiversity loss and the loss of human health, were not part of these calculations. With the advent of genetically modified monocrops in the 1990s, GM soy in particular, plantations took over larger surfaces of land, accelerating these negative processes on a previously unknown scale. It has become clear that if this type of agriculture persists, toxic plantations will soon consume the planet. One of the phenomena prompting this awareness in different places of the world was the death of bees. ¿Qué les pasó a las abejas?, directed by Adriana Otero and Robín Canul, relates the environmental conflict between GM soy growers in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, and Mayan beekeepers. Not long after the arrival of GM soy to Yucatan, the bees began to die. When their honey was rejected by the EU authorities due to contamination with transgenic pollen, Mayan beekeepers realized that not only their bees, but also their water and their bodies were poisoned by GM soy agriculture, while their forests were cut for new plantations. The Maya demanded that the state prohibit the planting of GM soy on their land. ¿Qué les pasó a las abejas? is a character-driven documentary featuring leaders of the Maya beekeepers’ movement, including the recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize 2020, Leydy Pech. Maya Land; Listening to the Bees, my own documentary, reflects on the same environmental conflict and asks what the future would look like if bee health was considered a criterion of sustainable development. A vision of an alternative future emerges in both films through a series of interviews with Mayan beekeepers, scientists, and policy makers; bees are healthy, water is clean, and agriculture incorporates a mixture of ancient techniques and cutting-edge technologies that assist humans in rethinking their relationships with land and plants.
... La Lista Roja de la Unión Internacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza (UICN) estimó que el 16.5% de polinizadores vertebrados están amenazados (IPBES, 2016). Se sabe poco del grupo de invertebrados, pero para México, Villanueva-G et al., (2005), reportaron que las colonias de abejas sin aguijón (Melipona beecheii) disminuyeron hasta un 93% en el periodo de 1985 a 2004. Atribuyendo esta disminución a cambios ambientales y a prácticas de manejo y conservación inapropiados. ...
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RESUMEN. La meliponicultura maya, es una práctica precolombina considerada sacra, que subsiste en ciertas comunidades del estado de Campeche, pero que lamentablemente se encuentra en grave riesgo de desaparecer. Por tanto, se propone al proyecto Museo de la Miel Maya, como una alternativa sustentable viable, para el fomento y preservación de la actividad meliponícola en la reserva natural de Calakmul, y su área de influencia, como un elemento de apoyo en el ámbito socioeconómico y cultural, y que también promueva la conservación ambiental de la región. Por tanto, mediante metodologías y protocolos estándares se elaborarán los planes de factibilidad técnica y operativa del museo, de manejo del área natural de la flora y su zona de valiamiento para garantizar la calidad de la miel, así como una guía interactiva para el desarrollo del turismo sustentable meliponícola. Como resultados, se destinaron 50 hectáreas de terreno comunitario para el proyecto. Se brindaron 30 asesorías y 25 cursos de capacitación a nuevos productores meliponícolas durante 2020-2021, y se colocó esta actividad dentro del Plan de Desarrollo Municipal de Calakmul como proyecto prioritario. Para poder consolidar este proyecto se hace necesario conservar el entorno natural, ya que la calidad de la miel maya depende de la interacción insecto-planta de manera simbiótica, así como de la conservación del suelo, agua y clima. Se espera que, con la implementación y puesta en marcha del Museo de la Miel Maya, se pueda coadyuvar a la preservación de la actividad meliponícola tradicional en la región de Calakmul, al tiempo que se promuevan acciones de conservación en torno a esta área natural tan importante en México en el marco de los megaproyectos en puerta como el del Tren Maya.
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This article highlights the emergence of intentional communities known as ecovillages (ecoaldeas) in Mexico, exploring how humans seek to design sustainable futures in part by re-making rural livelihoods. Ecovillages are inherently speculative ventures, or as Burke and Arjona (2013) note, laboratories for alternative political ecologies, inviting—and indeed, necessitating—the reimagination of human lives with greater consideration for the natural world. In this sense, such communities might be understood as “exilic spaces” (O’Hearn and Grubačić 2016), in that they seek to build autonomous and self-sustaining agricultural, social, and economic systems while also reflecting a stance of resistance to neoliberal capitalist structures. At the same time, communities may also remain dependent on connections to broader regional or global markets in diverse and interconnected ways. Understanding ecovillages as diverse and emergent “worldings” (de la Cadena and Blaser 2018), I ask how these experimental social ventures reckon with their connections to the very systems they are positioned against. To trace out how communities negotiate this fragile space, this article is concerned with how ecovillagers spend their time at work—particularly when it comes to managing relationships with and between more-than-human beings. Drawing on participant observation with ecovillagers and more-than-human others they work with, I explore how the concept of “rentabilidad” (profitability) is differently constructed. To this end, I highlight ethnographic examples where rentabilidad is purposefully reconceptualized with more-than-human lives in mind; such a shift, I suggest, hinges on ecovillagers’ individualized relations with the beings they (imagine themselves) to care for.
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Pollination by insects is an essential service for the conservation of plant biodiversity, since it increases the rate of fertilization of flowers and therefore increases the quality and quantity of seeds and fruits. In tropical regions, native plants depend heavily on stingless bees as pollinators since before the introduction of the European honey bee Apis mellifera. However, like for many other insect species worldwide, anthropogenic actions represent a true threat to stingless bee populations. In this article, we review the works that evaluated the potential negative impacts of human activities on populations of stingless bees. The studies constitute a strong body of evidence that stingless bee populations are at risk of decline around the world due to threats including habitat loss, agrochemicals, competition for resources, climate change, and the introduction of exotic species, including pathogens. agrochemicals / deforestation / competition / climate change / pests and diseases
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An increasing demand for pollination services highlights the need for research on alternative pollinators for greenhouse and open field food crops. We compared the foraging behaviour and effectiveness of seven endemic African Meliponinae (Meliponula bocandei, Dactylurina schmidti, Plebeina hildebrandti, Meliponula lendliana, Hypotrigona gribodoi, Meliponula ferruginea, Meliponula togoensis) as alternative pollinators to honey bees of greenhouse cultivated Cantaloupe melons. It was observed that honey bees started foraging sooner after introduction in the greenhouse (av. 4 days) than the stingless bee species (8 to 16 days). Stingless bees were mainly harvesting nectar (ca. 2/3 of all flower visits) and M. ferruginea, M. togoensis, H. gribodoi and P. hildebrandti spent more time collecting nectar than other stingless bee species. Fruit maturation was significantly faster when flowers were pollinated by stingless bees compared to honey bees, with the shortest fruit maturation time found when flowers were pollinated by M. bocandei and H. gribodoi. All treatments resulted in fruits of similar roundness and ellipsoid ratios. The highest fruit weight and fruit volume were obtained from flowers pollinated by either manual pollination, H. gribodoi, M. bocandei, M. lendliana and P. hildebrandti compared to honey bees. Correspondingly, pollination by the latter 5 species resulted in the highest seed counts per fruit, although these differences did not affect seed weight or volume. Altogether, our results indicate that stingless bees such as H. gribodoi, M. bocandei, M. lendliana and P. hildebrandti are more efficient pollinators of sweet melon than A. m. scutellata and can be recommended for use in greenhouse crops.
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This article reviews the development and present state of beekeeping in the Yucatan peninsula. It describes the particular situation of small-scale peasant beekeepers who collectively produce a substantial quantity of honey which is sold at competitive prices on the international market. A short historical overview gives the evolution from honey production with stingless bees to a modern beekeeping industry with the honey bee, Apis mellifera. The current beekeeping situation is described, including the status of honey production, its commercialization and exportation. Finally, the main problems that beekeepers face are summarized and future prospects for apiculture in the region suggested.
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A study of the viability of small populations of Hymenoptera is a matter of importance to gain a better zoological, ethological, genetical and ecological knowledge of these insects, and for conservation purposes, mainly because of the consequences to the survival of colonies of many species of bees, wasps, and ants. Based on the Whiting (1943) principle, Kerr & Vencovski (1982) presented a hypothesis that states that viable populations of stingless bees (Meliponini) should have at least 40 colonies to survive. This number was later extended to 44 colonies by Kerr (1985). This would be necessary to avoid any substantial amount of homozygosis in the pair of chromosomic sexual loci, by keeping at least six different sexual gene alleles in a reproductive population. In most cases this would prevent the production of useless diploid males. However, several facts weigh against considering this as a general rule. From 1990 to 2001, 287 colony divisions were made, starting with 28 foundation colonies, in the inbreeding and population experiments with the Meliponini reported here. These experiments constitute the most extensive and longest scientific research ever made with Meliponini bees. In ten different experiments presented here, seven species (one with two subspecies) of Meliponini bees were inbred in five localities inside their wide-reaching native habitats, and in two localities far away from these habitats. This was done for several years. On the whole, the number of colonies increased and the loss of colonies over the years was small. In two of these experiments, although these populations were far (1,000 km and 1,200 km) from their native habitat, their foundation colonies were multiplied successfuly. It was possible to build up seven strong and three expanding medium populations, starting with one, two, three or even five colonies. However, in six other cases examined here, the Whiting (1943) principle and the hypothesis of Kerr & Vencovski (1982) and Kerr (1985), possibly hold up. In two other cases, the results are still unclear. Outside native habitats, most inbreeding experiments failed, possibly because of conditions that cause ecological stress. Although much more data are still needed, a new working hypothesis on the molecular level was presented to explain the results of the experiments described here. In the absence of any considerable stress, and in the eventuality of a good nutritive situation, even individual bees that are homozygous in the pair of chromosomic sexual locus would produce a sufficient amount of a sex determining substance. Therefore, the female genes of all the diploid individuals of a colony, both homozygous and heterozygous, would be activated. However, situations of considerable stress would cause a poor physiological and nutritive condition. This, together with homozygosis in the pair of chromosomic sexual locus, would lead to a smaller production of the sex determining substance. When this happens in the diploid homozygous individuals of a colony, in relation to sex, only male genes are activated. As a result, all such homozygous diploid bees of the colony become useless males. However, when there is a heterozygous situation in the chromosomic sexual locus of all bees of a colony, all diploid individuals would produce a high amount of the sex determining substance. Consequently, all diploid individuals of such a colony would become females (queens and workers). Stresses, including ecological stress, as well as the nutritive condition and the genetic situation in the chromosomic sexual loci, will have a key influence in the life and behavior of the Meliponini, including sex determination. In relation to genetic factors, hybrid vigour may often cause a greater production of biological substances. This may be due to the presence of a greater number of copies of allelic genes when there is heterozygosis. This is a hypothesis requiring further research. However, in the experiments presented here, this hypothesis seems to apply well to the production of a sex determining substance in bees (Apoidea) and other Hymenoptera.
The density and dispersion patterns of nests of 5 stingless bee species are described for a tract of Costa Rican tropical dry forest. Features of suitable nest sites are analyzed, but it does not appear that nest site availability limits colony density or determines colony dispersion. Rather, food limitation is suggested by a linear relationship between the logarithm of colony biomass and the logarithm of foraging "home range." Colonies were uniformly dispersed intraspecifically in 4 species. The pattern in a 5th species could not be distinguished from a random dispersion. Partial nest counts in 3 more species suggested a clumped dispersion in at least 1 species. The 4 species with uniform nest spacing all use pheromones for recruitment in foraging, whereas the remaining 4 species do not. The 3 most uniformly dispersed species are also intraspecifically aggressive at food sources. We propose that colony spacing is accomplished in these species by aggressive prevention of new colony establishment. The mechanism of colony spacing we propose has as essential elements: pheromone marking of potential nest sites; recruitment of workers; and aggression between workers from rival nests. This mechanism has been observed in operation in at least 1 of the species.
Life Under the Tropical Canopy: Tradition and Change Among the Yucatec Maya. Ellen Kintz New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 1990. 170 pp. $8.50 (paper). ISBN 0-03-032592-7.