, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 1-24
Date: 09 Sep 2007

Genetic and morphological variation of bee-parasitic Tropilaelaps mites (Acari: Laelapidae): new and re-defined species

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Mites in the genus Tropilaelaps are parasites of social honeybees. Two species, Tropilaelaps clareae and T. koenigerum, have been recorded and their primary hosts are presumed to be the giant honeybees of Asia, Apis dorsata and A. laboriosa. The most common species, T. clareae, is also an economically important pest of the introduced Western honeybee (A. mellifera) throughout Asia and is considered an emerging threat to world apiculture. In the studies reported here, genetic (mtDNA CO-I and nuclear ITS1-5.8S-ITS2 gene sequence) and morphological variation and host associations were examined among Tropilaelaps isolates collected from A. dorsata, A. laboriosa and A. mellifera throughout Asia and neighbouring regions. The results clearly indicate that the genus contains at least four species. Tropilaelaps clareae, previously assumed to be ubiquitous in Asia, was found to be two species, and it is here redefined as encompassing haplotypes (mites with distinct mtDNA gene sequences) that parasitise native A. dorsata breviligula and introduced A. mellifera in the Philippines and also native A. d. binghami on Sulawesi Island in Indonesia. Tropilaelaps mercedesae n. sp., which until now has been mistaken for T. clareae, encompasses haplotypes that, together with haplotypes of T. koenigerum, parasitise native A. d. dorsata in mainland Asia and Indonesia (except Sulawesi Island). It also parasitises introduced A. mellifera in these and surrounding regions and, with another new species, T. thaii n. sp., also parasitises A. laboriosa in mountainous Himalayan regions. Methods are described for identifying each species. These studies help to clarify the emerging threat of Tropilaelaps to world apiculture and will necessitate a revision of quarantine protocols for countries that import and export honeybees.