The health and status of the feral honeybee population of the UK

The health and status of the feral honeybee (Apis mellifera sp) and Apis mellifera mellifera population of the UK

abstract of thesis  Catherine Eleanor Thompson

While declines in managed honeybee colonies are well documented, little is known about the health and status of feral honeybee populations. To date no studies have considered the wider pathogen burden in feral colonies, whether they represent a genetically distinct population, a remnant native population or a unique source of genetic resistance. Chapter 2 investigates disease prevalence in managed and feral honeybee colonies. Deformed wing virus was shown to be 2.4 fold higher in feral than managed honeybees. Managed honeybee colonies not treated for Varroa showed similar levels of deformed wing virus to that of feral colonies. In the absence of managing the Varroa mite, feral populations are subject to potentially lethal levels of DWV. Such a finding provides evidence to explain the large decline in the feral population, and the importance of feral colonies as potential pathogen reservoirs is discussed. Chapter 3 investigates the ecology, racial composition and survival of feral honeybee colonies. Over 47% of colonies were lost during the course of this study, confirming observations of large scale losses within the feral population. Only 12 colonies were seen to persist for 2.5 years, although the original queen swarmed or was replaced during this time. Feral colonies were shown to be genetically similar to local managed colonies, differing, albeit significantly, by only 2.3%. The implications for feral honeybee health are explored. Feral colonies are highly introgressed and do not represent remnant populations of A. m. mellifera. Breeding efforts for the native bee are explored in Chapter 4 and 5. Honeybee colonies within breeding programs are shown to be of variable purity, but most successfully maintaining stocks at a higher level of A. m. mellifera than the background average from FERAs Random Apiary Survey samples. Methods to improve the success of breeding efforts and move the selection focus away from indices based wing morphometry are discussed.

full thesis