Quantifying honey bee mating range and isolation in semi-isolated valleys by DNA microsatellite paternity analysis
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Honey bee males and queens mate in mid air and can fly many kilometres on their nuptial flights. The conservation of native honey bees, such as the European black bee (Apis mellifera mellifera), therefore, requires large isolated areas to prevent hybridisation with other subspecies, such as A. m. ligustica or A. m. carnica, which may have been introduced by beekeepers. This study used DNA microsatellite markers to determine the mating range of A. m. mellifera in two adjacent semi-isolated valleys (Edale and Hope Valley) in the Peak District National Park, England, in order to assess their suitability for native honey bee conservation and as isolated mating locations. Three apiaries were set up in each valley, each containing 12 colonies headed by a virgin queen and 2 queenright drone producing hives. The virgin queens were allowed to mate naturally with drones from the hives we had set up and with drones from hives owned by local beekeepers. After mating, samples of worker larvae were taken from the 41 queens that mated successfully and genotyped at 11 DNA microsatellite loci. Paternity analyses were then carried out to determine mating distances and isolation. An average of 10.2 fathers were detected among the 16 worker progeny. After correction for non-detection and non-sampling errors, the mean effective mating frequency of the test queens was estimated to be 17.2, which is a normal figure for honey bees. Ninety percent of the matings occurred within a distance of 7.5 km, and fifty percent within 2.5 km. The maximal mating distance recorded was 15 km. Queens and drones did occasionally mate across the borders between the two valleys, showing that the dividing mountain ridge Losehill does not provide complete isolation. Nevertheless, in the most isolated part of Edale sixty percent of all matings were to drones from Edale hives. The large majority of observed mating distances fell within the range of Hope Valley, making this site a suitable location for the long term conservation of a breeding population of black bees.
KeywordsApis mellifera mellifera gene flow honey bee conservation mating distance National Park European black bee Peak District polyandry social insects
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ABJ, KAP, and NC were funded by the EU (FW5-ENV) research network ‘Beekeeping and Apis Biodiversity in Europe’ (BABE) (contract EVK2-CT-2000-00068). We thank the local (East Midlands) branch of BIBBA (Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association) and beekeepers and landowners in Edale and Hope Valley for their assistance during the bee sampling and for providing land to set up apiaries.
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