The natural distribution of honeybee subspecies in Europe has been significantly affected by human activities during the last century. Non-native subspecies of honeybees have been introduced and propagated, so that native black honeybee (Apis mellifera mellifera) populations lost their identity by gene-flow or went extinct. After previous studies investigated the remaining gene-pools of native honeybees in France and Spain, we here assess the genetic composition of eight northwest European populations of the black honeybee, using both mitochondrial (restriction fragment length polymorphisms of the intergenic transfer RNAleu-COII region) and nuclear (11 microsatellite loci) markers. Both data sets show that A. m. mellifera populations still exist in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, England, Scotland and Ireland, but that they are threatened by gene flow from commercial honeybees. Both Bayesian admixture analysis of the microsatellite data and DraI-RFLP (restriction fragment length polymorphism) analysis of the intergenic region indicated that gene-flow had hardly occurred in some populations, whereas almost 10% introgression was observed in other populations. The most introgressed population was found on the Danish Island of Læsø, which is the last remaining native Danish population of A. m. mellifera and the only one of the eight investigated populations that is protected by law. We discuss how individual admixture analysis can be used to monitor the restoration of honeybee populations that suffer from unwanted hybridization with non-native subspecies.
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