Adaptation through natural selection is the natural response of bee populations to environmental changes and the challenge of pests and diseases. The richness in biodiversity of races and ecotypes of Apis mellifera reflects a long lasting, continuous process of adaptation. This diversity represents a highly valuable biological capital that is worth preserving as a basis for future selection and development in response to new ecological and production challenges.
The highly complex reproductive biology of honey bees, including multiple mating of queens, long distance mating flights, male haploidy, excess drone production and drone congregation areas, has evolved as an effective toolbox for the selection of genetically diverse honey bee populations. However, modern beekeeping and breeding techniques may limit or extinguish these natural selection effects (Bouga et al., 2011), which risks lowering the vitality of bee populations.
Responsible breeding activities have to regard the natural reproductive biology of honey bees. Modern techniques of queen rearing, selection and mating control offer very powerful tools to improve the economic, behavioural and adaptive traits of honey bees. Here we describe the available techniques in bee breeding, and recommend scientific and technical standards. Indeed, internationally approved quality standards for queen rearing, mating and testing are needed for the improvement, comparison and exchange of breeding stock, and to fulfil the demands of the market.
The authors share the vision that these recommendations will help preserve the natural diversity in honey bees and to support the production of high quality queens, both in a physiological and in a genetic sense. The use of standard, high-quality queens is a prerequisite for any research on colony development and behaviour as well as for economically successful beekeeping.