European honeybee populations have faced increasing challenges imposed by different interacting drivers such as malnutrition, agrochemical molecules, climate change, and invasive species. No publications have suggested the spread of invasive pathogens carried by allochtonous unadapted honeybees as a putative supplementary cause of colony losses in Europe. While numerous studies determine factors involved in honeybee decline, paradoxically no particular protocol, especially at ecosystem and subspecies distribution levels, has been developed to counter the effects of colony losses.
The aim of Beehope is to set up, according to a North/South gradient in Europe, genetic conservatories of original naturally distributed honeybee populations. Those populations are particularly interesting to study and preserve in a context of sustainable beekeeping.
These preservation areas’ missions are:
- Characterise the genetic and eco-ethologic diversity of honeybees from the Western European lineage (M lineage).
- Protect their genetic diversity.
- Constitute a reserve of diversity for the honeybee industry and beekeepers.
- Collect data on impact of climate change on the life cycle of subspecies from M lineage (A. m. mellifera and A. m. iberiensis) and on the spatio-temporal succession of their cortege of microbiota and parasites.
- Usage of the honeybee as a bio-collector and as a biological indicator of environmental quality.
- The populations of Spain and Portugal have not yet been disturbed by the queen trade. Nonetheless, honeybee populations in France can have very irregular hybridisation levels that may jeopardise the maintenance of the natural diversity of local bee strains (i.e. the black bee).
- The eco-ethological monitoring of the honeybee colonies indicated for the first time that there was a regulation of the hygrometry inside the colony with a certain variation within the gradient observed, whatever the place of the study. In the same colonies, the prevalence of infectious agents (bacteria, virus, microsporidia), showed significant heterogeneity at the north/south gradient as well as at the local level (apiaries of the same site).
- The diversity of the microbiota of the French populations seemed greater than that of the other populations. It seems that the genetic origin and the landscape are two factors very involved in the diversity of this one.
- The majority of beekeepers are sensitive to sustainable beekeeping using the local strain, particularly in Portugal and Spain, where beekeepers generally work with their local stock. In France, the establishment of genetic preservation centers of local honeybees appears to be a sensitive point for a part of the beekeeping industry.