Exploring the life history traits of wild, unmanaged honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies at the Galbreath Wildlands Preserve in Mendocino County, CA

Project Date
2021 - 2028





Project Topics

Funding Sources


Wild honey bees exhibit different life history traits than managed colonies. For example, the density of naturally nesting colonies in remote woodlands is low and colonies nest individually in widely separated tree cavities. This life-history strategy of wild colonies makes them less vulnerable to parasites than beekeepers’ colonies. Additionally, feral colonies stay smaller, rear less brood, and swarm frequently, all of which reduce the reproductive potential of Varroa mites (V. destructor). Both empirical and theoretical studies suggest that these factors alone—the spacing of colonies, and their life history can reduce the infection levels of V. destructor considerably. Furthermore, it is predicted that under certain conditions, populations of honey bee colonies not treated against parasites will evolve resistance mechanisms against these pests through natural selection. A population of honey bees living in the deciduous forests of New York State was found to be stable over decades. This population has been shown to exhibit genomic signatures of selection after the arrival of Varroa

The primary goal of our project is to collect data about the life expectancy and genetic signature of wild, unmanaged honey bees living in remote landscapes of California in the absence of managed beekeeping of any kind. We will achieve this goal through main objectives:

  • Objective 1: To determine the genetic diversity of wild honey bees in remote landscapes of Northern California.
  • Objective 2: To examine whether wild honey bees have developed a natural tolerance to Varroa mites in remote wildlands by monitoring the colonies’ monthly survivorship status for up to 5 years.
  • Objective 3: To create baselines and evaluation of diverse pollinator communities to better understand the role of wild Apis m. as a possible benevolent co-constituent.

This study will provide us with the unique opportunity to contribute to a global field of research of wild honey bees that are persisting alongside V. destructor, and will increase our understanding of how unmanaged colonies can thrive in wild settings without any human intervention.


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Exploring the life history traits of wild, unmanaged honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies at the Galbreath proposal  

Key Terms: Apis mellifera, Varroa destructor, pollinator, conservation, sustainable beekeeping