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adapted there. If Britain were to acquire, for example, a SELECTION
Mediterranean climate, things might be different, but in recent
times that situation has not arisen and even with global Back in the 1930s, the American, MH Haydek, carried out a
warming, such an extreme change is unlikely to occur. highly instructive selection experiment on honey bees. As I
remember it, he placed his 20 or so colonies in threeFEEDING TO SURVIVE
categories with regard to honey yield. The ‘poor’ category
had collected a miserly 100 lb of honey that season, theMost bees in Britain, let’s face it, survive only by virtue of
‘middling’ ones about 200 lb and the ‘best’ 300 lb plus. supplementary sugar feeding and medicine. Surely there’s
something wrong here! Bees must be seriously incompetent Each year for the next 10 years he reassessed his colonies
if they need feeding in summer, or at all, except in really and each year culled the queens in the ‘poor’ category and
exceptional circumstances. There is also surely something replaced them with daughters from the most productive.
seriously wrong with an industry based on semi-wild animals At the end of the 10 years, lo and behold, the ‘poor’ and
that depends on repeated and widespread medication! ‘middling’ were no longer represented and all 20 colonies
Last winter, colony losses in England and Wales were had to be classified as ‘best’! Even more, remarkably the
around 30%, three times the average. If we are to believe yields of the ‘best’ had shot up to 400 lb! Furthermore, the
popular reports, this is generally taken to mean things are yields of his neighbours’ hives had also increased.
getting worse; and this despite all the sugar and To the geneticist this is a simple case of selective breeding.
medication! So why are things so bad, and what can be I once did something similar, increasing the average size of
done to improve them? brood nests at the spring inspection from 4 to 8 frames.
Both conceptually and practically this is very easy to carryADAPTED TO SURVIVE
out. At swarming time you simply destroy all the queen
To go back to what I wrote above, wild species are cells in the poor colonies and replace them with good
especially able survivors only in the environment in which queen cells from the best.
they originally arose. In those locations they are genetically It sounds too good to be true – and actually it is – because it
adapted for survival come thick or thin. Although they are only works if no other hives are moved into your area and only
rigorously selected to fit in on their home turf, elsewhere really well if most neighbours’ colonies are of the same
they can be stressed with the continual demands of subspecies as your own. In most of Britain this is unlikely to
physiological adaptation to the foreign environment. When be true. Even in rural Northumberland it is very difficult to find
conditions for which they are not pre-selected become a location sufficiently isolated from foreign drones for use as a
especially harsh, the physiological strain is too great one mating apiary. Nevertheless, the most effective way to improve
way or another and they die. your bees with respect to any quantitative character is routinely
to cull the quarter (or third) of queens that head colonies youWe know we tend to suffer colds more when we are
consider poorest and re-queen them from better ones. stressed. This is because under stress our immune systems
are pushed out of kilter and our white blood cells and Note that, although you must exclude the genes of
antibodies fail to respond and function optimally. Stressful maladapted foreign subspecies, you must at the same time
situations promote many aspects of ill health, including ensure you retain adequate genetic variation within the
infective and auto-immune disease and cancer, and we can chosen population. Also, do not re-queen from just a single
die as a consequence. ‘breeder queen’, use several queen lines or you will rapidly
lose the original range of sex alleles in the population andAlthough the immune system of honey bees works on a
fertility will decline.different basis, it is asking too much for Mediterranean or other
warm climate bees to cope with the extreme environmental COLONY LOSSES AS CULLING
stresses of our climate in addition to warding off infections and
collecting honey in excess of their own needs. To return to the problem of colony losses, with a little insight
into natural selection we can consider the lost colonies to beFortunately, nature shows us what to do – or rather she
the fraction we ought in any case to cull. Emotionally it isinsists! When nature eliminates those colonies that are
easier than making your own selection, as nature has already least able to survive, she is, in evolutionary terms, adjusting
made a good choice.the gene pool so as to ensure the next generation copes
better than the present one. The important point though is to breed from survivors. Do not
Bee Craft digital January 2009 Page 15
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