Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University
Forsøgsvej 1
Yes: Meat
Honey bee diversity in Denmark
Per Kryger; Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University; Slagelse; Denmark;

The Danish queen breeders have used mating stations on several of the smaller islands, since approximately 30 years. Different breeder have favoured either bees labelled as Yellow bees (Apis mellifera ligustica), Carnica bees (A. m. carnica), or most frequently Buckfast bees. The breeders have rather similar goals: to produce bees that are gentle, that don't swarm, and produce a lot of honey. In Denmark there is a strong focus on disease tolerance, with regular test for hygienic behaviour and a complete absence of Nosema spores in a sample of 60 bees taken at the end of winter, is mandatory for all potential breeder colonies.

The typical beekeeper may buy queens from one of these breeders, but not every year. However, the neighbouring beekeepers often got bees of another subspecies. There lacks a local consensus on the best bee. 

The islands with their mating stations have thus allowed the breeders to maintain their bees purebred, of three different subspecies in peaceful co-existence. However, the haphazard acquisitions of queens by the Danish beekeepers, is bound to result in a very complex honey bee population, with a multitude of hybrids bees. These hybrid bees make up the majority of the population, with only a few purebred bees, which are mostly situated at the breeders apiaries. Previous results indicate that traces of the original A. m. mellifera bees are also still present. This is surprising considering an absence of beekeepers wanting to maintain these bees in most of Denmark.

The current approach towards improvement of the Buckfast bees results in the introduction of additional genetic variation, sometimes of rather exotic origin. Still the relative low numbers of very foreign queens being imported for new Buckfast crossings, means that hybrids with these subspecies are of limited relevance for the population.

Therefore, the majority of hybridisation occurs between the three main breds, through queen trade. It seems that the hybrid bees maintain the gentleness of the purebred bees. However, the productivity of these hybrid bees and their health status is not known. A new project aims to evaluate if indeed the current co-existence of three different populations in Denmark is a fortunate situation for bees and beekeepers.


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