Conference Paper

IHBBN, reducing colony losses by breeding locally adapted honey bees

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Abstract

Nowadays the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) is present worldwide, wherever beekeeping is possible, though its native habitat spreads out across Europe, Africa and parts of Western Asia. About 26 different subspecies evolved through time, each adapted by natural selection to cope with the local environmental conditions. During the past 2 centuries, Western honey bees were transported from Europe to the Americas and Australia. Modern beekeeping increased inbreeding of some honey bee populations within the native range as well, with a few favoured subspecies being imported into natural habitats of other subspecies. Some subspecies, such as Apis mellifera adami, are almost extinct while of some others, such as A. m. siciliana and A. m. ruttneri, there is just a handful of populations remaining, needing intensive conservation measures. Regardless loss of biodiversity, there are indications that genetic pollution could lead to maladaptation to local environmental conditions, making it harder for honey bee colonies of non-local origin to survive. The E.U. funded project SMARTBEES was also aiming to develop breeding activities all over Europe and especially breeding for traits important to beekeepers and mite tolerance, and breeding in countries with endangered and neglected native honey bee populations. These breeding activities would hopefully lead to conservation through utilization. The SMARTBEES work package responsible for this breeding extension became a great success and when the project finished, the participants agreed there was continuity needed to keep the breeding efforts going. Therefore, the International Honey Bee Breeding Network, IHBBN, was established. IHBBN is an association, set up by associations and groups involved in SMARTBEES, aiming to outreach to breeding associations worldwide, which has set itself the goal to encourage and support breeding locally adapted honey bees, in their native range where it could help conservation of endangered subspecies, but also outside the native range where however the benefits of local breeding can also be present. As well as for the Western honey bee, this assistance will also be offered for the Eastern honey bee (Apis cerana).

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