translated from Pollinis “l’abeille noire” https://www.pollinis.org/admin/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/abeille-noire-6.pdf
In addition to the many factors that are decimating bee colonies around the world, the black bee, the local bee, is facing a race for short-term profitability which favours the import of bees that are often unsuitable for our areas and are more fragile.
A marvel of adaptation
Lively, frugal and resistant, the black bee has been present from the Pyrenees to Scandinavia for about a million years. Black brown in color, it is darker than the other European subspecies and larger, with a particularly large and voluminous abdomen. Its trunk is relatively short and its numerous bristles (hairs) make it an excellent harvester and disseminator of pollen, thus ensuring the survival of many wild plants and contributing to the yields and quality of a large part of agricultural production. Particularly well adapted to the European climate, this local bee is more resistant to diseases and the workers are known for their longevity. She is able to cope with the extreme conditions of winter:
Wild or domestic?
Social bees, black or otherwise, have an uncertain status, halfway between domestic and wild. On the one hand, they feed alone, adapt to external conditions and do not need human protection. On the other, they are brought to live in a shelter made by a beekeeper, of which they become the property, and who can now control its reproduction. In the past, domesticated bees could become wild again when swarming, when the queen left the hive with half the inhabitants to found a new swarm, and conversely, they could become domestic by passing from a natural cavity to the hive. Under the current degraded ecological conditions, the fewer natural swarms no longer last as well.
Mostly, the evolution of beekeeping practices aims to reduce swarming by controlling reproduction, with grafting (transfer of larvae), artificial insemination or selection of queens. The bee is therefore an increasingly domesticated species. The black bee can be considered both wild and domestic, even if in light of the evolution of species and its behavior, it should be considered as a wild animal. Especially since it has not been the subject of intensive selection like certain varieties of bees modified by humans for increased productivity. This lack of official categorization is problematic because only a wild species can be legally recognized as an “endangered species”. The black bee is in fact a threatened subspecies in France for several reasons.
Chronicle of an disappearance fortold?
For the past twenty years, bees have been disappearing massively all over the world. In the most affected apiaries, beekeepers record up to 90% loss (dead bees, unable to produce honey or which never return). This phenomenon is called the “bee colony collapse syndrome”.
In Europe, annual mortality rates between 2012 and 2014 were around 23% on average *, against 5% to 10% of natural mortality. In question? Several factors, and their joint effects: pesticides, in particular neonicotinoids, loss of biodiversity linked to intensive industrial agriculture, viruses, parasites such as varroa, fungi like Nosema cerranae, Asian hornet etc.
In addition to these factors that affect all pollinators, there are specific threats to the black bee: a bad reputation and the massive importation of non-local bees.
The genus Apis comprises four groups of species including Apis mellifera, or “honey-bearing bee”, the bee that is found in particular in Europe. It came from the Orient about a million years ago and has given rise to four main evolutionary lines. The black bee, or Apis mellifera mellifera is therefore a subspecies of one of these lines.
The use of the black bee by beekeepers has declined sharply because it has a reputation for being aggressive and producing little honey. The black bee is certainly not a docile bee. For some, this ability to defend themselves, this reactivity to stress, is even an advantage because it forces men to adopt beekeeping practices that respect their nature. Scientists have also shown that it is mainly hybrid bees, resulting from crosses between imported bees and black bees, which are aggressive and difficult to handle. As for its supposed low “yield”, experts say that it is largely offset by its frugality, the little intervention it requires and its regularity,
The massive importation of bees
Due to this reputation as a nervous and unproductive bee, and in the absence of a local black bee market, French professional beekeepers turned to the importation of subspecies with high yields. most important in the short term: the Italian bee (Apis mellifera ligustica) in the 1930s, for gathering rapeseed; the Caucasian bee (Apis mellifera caucasica) in the 1950s, their longer tubes being able to gather clover; Buckfast, a strain from multiple crosses, operated by a monk in the abbey of the same name. There is no national or European legal measure which makes it possible to regulate these imports from a genetic point of view. Some states, notably Italy whose bees are the most used in the world for beekeeping, have no interest in such regulation. The hybridization, or crossbreeding, which results from these imports, nevertheless contributes to the weakening of the local subspecies. Crossed with bees that are less autonomous and less adapted to the environment, hybrid bees are weaker and require more care and maintenance. Ultimately, these mixed-race bees may no longer have the initial characteristics of the imported bee (docility and yield), nor the resistance capacities of the black bee.
Pollination is fundamental for biodiversity and agriculture. 80% of pollination is carried out by hymenoptera (bees, wasps, bumblebees). They are the ones that transport pollen (powder containing male cells) from the stamens to the pistil that contains the ova (female cells), allowing fertilization and transformation of the ova into seed and the pistil into fruit.
Protect the black bee, why? Heritage interest This subspecies has existed for a million years; it is a genetic heritage to be preserved and passed on to future generations and to all those involved in agriculture. Ecological interest Pollinators are not interchangeable: they do not live in the same environments or at the same times of the year and gather different flowers depending on the length of their proboscis. More adapted to the local climate, the black bee will probably ensure a more constant, regular and varied pollination than the imported subspecies. Economic interest More resistant, of great longevity, the black bee requires less maintenance from beekeepers and its honey production is more regular.
How? ‘Or’ What ? By accelerating the transition to a national and European agricultural model which no longer relies on all-pesticides and chemical fertilizers but promotes biodiversity and the viability of the farming profession. By enhancing the qualities of the black bee with the general public, public authorities and beekeepers. By encouraging the breeding of queens and the local production of swarms among professionals. By promoting beekeeping practices that respect its unruly nature. Beekeepers very attached to its qualities of wild animal wish on the contrary to avoid any selection made for the needs of a productivist beekeeping based on strategies of intensification of the yields. By creating black bee conservatories, as there are about forty in Europe, a defined area within which the bee colonies are preserved with respect for the species: absence of transhumance (the hives are not moved), over-feeding (the bees are only fed with sweet syrups in if necessary and up to what is collected only), and imports of non-local bees. In December 2015, FEDCAN, the European Federation of Black Bee Conservatories was thus created. It brings together a dozen conservatories in France as well as POLLINIS and Lionel Garnery, CNRS researcher, specialist in the genetics of the black bee. overfeeding (bees are only fed with sweet syrups when necessary and up to what is taken only), and imports of non-local bees. In December 2015, FEDCAN, the European Federation of Black Bee Conservatories was thus created. It brings together a dozen conservatories in France as well as POLLINIS and Lionel Garnery, CNRS researcher, specialist in the genetics of the black bee. overfeeding (bees are only fed with sweet syrups when necessary and up to what is taken only), and imports of non-local bees. In December 2015, FEDCAN, the European Federation of Black Bee Conservatories was thus created. It brings together a dozen conservatories in France as well as POLLINIS and Lionel Garnery, CNRS researcher, specialist in the genetics of the black bee.
To find out more On the black bee, FEDCAN, the black bee conservatories, the action of POLLINIS for pollinators, and to find a list of reference works: www.pollinis.org