Skip to main content

Invasion genetics of the Asian hornet Vespa velutina nigrithorax in Southern Europe

A Correction to this article was published on 26 March 2022

This article has been updated


In 2004, Vespa velutina was first seen in France. Since then, this fierce honey bee predator spread across many countries, giving rise to one of the most phenomenal insect invasions in Europe. An early study in France showed a genetically depauperate population, originating from a single multi-mated queen introduced from China. Here, we further unveil V. velutina invasion genetics in Europe by surveying the Iberian and Italian peninsulas using cytonuclear markers. Our results show that the French population acted as the colonists’ source in Spain, Portugal and Italy, leading to rejecting the hypothesis of multiple introductions from the native range. While Spain and Italy were colonized predominantly by leading-edge expansions from the French core population, in Portugal the invasion started from long-distance jump. Both processes were accompanied by a significant reduction in genetic diversity, with stronger losses for Portugal (Ar = 17.4%; uHe = 42.3%) than for Spain (Ar = 9.0%; uHe = 20.6%) or Italy (Ar = 16.3%; uHe = 26.8%). Signatures of differentiation and population structure, associated to the founding event in Portugal, enabled detection of secondary contact between the front derived from the primary propagule introduced in France and the front derived from the secondary propagule introduced in Portugal. Detection of first-generation migrants in the three countries suggests continuous gene flow that is bringing in new alleles, and this effect is stronger in Portugal, as reflected by a 20.3% increase in allelic richness. Overall, this study provides further insights into the invasion genetics of V. velutina in Europe, which can aid developing strategies to manage this major threat to beekeeping.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

source region (s)

Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

Availability of data and material

All the data and materials are available in the manuscript and in the supplementary tables.

Code availability (software application or custom code)

Not applicable.

Change history


Download references


The authors are grateful to the many people who graciously contributed with V. velutina specimens, namely: Marco PortoCarrero, Tiago Moreira, Miguel Maia, Bruno Moreira, Ester Ordóñez Dios, David Outeiro, Egoitz Galarza, Nicole Filipe, Inês Madeira, Carla Teixeira, Carlos Cadime, Andrea Chasqueiro, Ana Paula Vale, Carla Brites, João Valente, Paulo Russo, Mónica Lopes, João Mesquita, and Sílvia Rodrigues. We are also deeply grateful to Florence Mougel (Laboratoire Evolution Génome Spéciation, CNRS) for providing DNA samples from France. D.H. was supported by the project BeeHappy (POCI-01-0145-FEDER-029871) funded by FEDER (Fundo Europeu de Desenvolvimento Regional) through the program COMPETE 2020—POCI (Programa Operacional para a Competividade e Internacionalização), and by Portuguese funds through FCT (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia). FCT provided financial support by national funds (FCT/MCTES) to CIMO (UIDB/00690/2020). This research was funded by the program POSEUR-03-2215-FC-000008, through the project “GesVespa: Estratégias de gestão sustentável da Vespa velutina no Norte de Portugal”.


This research was funded by the program POSEUR-03-2215-FC-000008, through the project “GesVespa: Estratégias de gestão sustentável da Vespa velutina no Norte de Portugal”. Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia provided financial support by national funds (FCT/MCTES) to CIMO (UIDB/00690/2020).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



MAP conceived the ideas and designed the methodology. AQ performed the laboratorial work as well as most of the analyses with assistance of DH and MAP. All the authors contributed with data interpretation. MAP and AQ wrote the manuscript. DH, JG, XM and LB critically revised the manuscript for important intellectual content.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to M. Alice Pinto.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest to declare that are relevant to the content of this article.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

The original online version of this article was revised: In the original publication of the article, the fourth author's family name and affiliations were published incorrectly and the author's name and affiliations are corrected.

Supplementary Information

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary file1 (XLSX 183 KB)

Supplementary file2 (XLSX 183 KB)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Quaresma, A., Henriques, D., Godinho, J. et al. Invasion genetics of the Asian hornet Vespa velutina nigrithorax in Southern Europe. Biol Invasions 24, 1479–1494 (2022).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Yellow-legged hornet
  • Alien species
  • Biological invasion
  • Genetic diversity
  • Microsatellites
  • mtDNA