16 and Bee

By: Anton G.
Year: 2024
School: Costa Mesa High
Grade: 9
Science Teacher: Paul Serio

Honeybee colonies are facing numerous threats, including pesticides, parasites, diseases, and the invasion of difficult-to-manage African Hybrid Bees (AHB). Introduced inadvertently in Brazil in the 1950s, these African bees have spread as far north as California, replacing many feral European honeybee (EHB) colonies. To address this growing concern, Anton’s project aimed to analyze the genetic makeup of feral and managed bee colonies in Orange County, using PCR tests to determine their ancestry and the prevalence of AHB.

Honeybees play a crucial role as pollinators for many crops and flowering plants, making their health and stability vital for agriculture and biodiversity. By identifying the prevalence and genetic traits of AHB in Orange County, this project aims to inform better management practices and public policies, ensuring the sustainability of honeybee populations and the ecosystems they support.

The goal was to collect and analyze samples from 1,000 bee colonies throughout Orange County over the year. By gathering bee samples from beekeepers, bee rescue/removal companies, and the public, Anton’s performed PCR tests on a mitochondrial DNA marker to trace their maternal ancestry. This data helped determine the percentage of AHB in the region. Using geospatial mapping and statistical analysis, Anton explored various hypotheses, such as whether managed European hives influence nearby feral colonies and if AHB prefer different nesting sites.

In his project, Anton analyzed 140 bee samples, identifying 68 as AHB and 72 as EHB. Among managed hives, 86% were EHB, while 86% of feral or rescued hives were AHB. This indicates that AHB have largely displaced feral EHB in southern California. Additionally, foraging bees collected randomly in the wild showed that 78% were AHB and 22% were EHB.

The PCR test used in this project accurately distinguishes between EHB and AHB based on a mitochondrial marker (a SNP in the cytochrome b gene). This allowed Anton to trace the lineage of AHB back to the original 26 A. m. scutellata queens released in Brazil in 1956.

Preliminary data from sample submission forms suggested significant behavioral differences between EHB and AHB. Managed EHB colonies are mostly docile (76%), while a majority of AHB colonies exhibit mild defensiveness (62%), and 10% display significant defensive behavior, posing potential hazards to beekeepers and the public.

The data collected is promising but limited. To draw more robust conclusions, Anton plans to collect additional data on 1,000 hives and 2,500 foraging bees in 2024. This will allow for more detailed geospatial mapping and analysis of hive density, habitat, and plant resource preferences.

Furthermore, Anton intends to create a DNA bank for future genome sequencing to identify genetic markers associated with AHB defensiveness and their success as an invasive species. Understanding these traits could help develop strategies to manage AHB populations and mitigate their impact on local ecosystems and beekeeping practices.