Africanized Bees from Panama to San Diego

Admixture in Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera) from Panamá to San Diego, California (U.S.A.)

Daniela Zárate, 1 Thiago G. Lima, 2 Jude D. Poole, 3 Erin Calfee, 4 Ronald S. Burton, 2 and Joshua R. Kohn 1


The Africanized honey bee (AHB) is a New World amalgamation of several subspecies of the western honey bee (Apis mellifera), a diverse taxon historically grouped into four major biogeographic lineages: A (African), M (Western European), C (Eastern European), and O (Middle Eastern). In 1956, accidental release of experimentally bred “Africanized” hybrids from a research apiary in Sao Paulo, Brazil initiated a hybrid species expansion that now extends from northern Argentina to northern California (U.S.A.). Here, we assess nuclear admixture and mitochondrial ancestry in 60 bees from four countries (Panamá; Costa Rica, Mexico; U.S.A) across this expansive range to assess ancestry of AHB several decades following initial introduction and test the prediction that African ancestry decreases with increasing latitude. We find that AHB nuclear genomes from Central America and Mexico have predominately African genomes (76%–89%) with smaller contributions from Western and Eastern European lineages. Similarly, nearly all honey bees from Central America and Mexico possess mitochondrial ancestry from the African lineage with few individuals having European mitochondria. In contrast, AHB from San Diego (CA) shows markedly lower African ancestry (38%) with substantial genomic contributions from all four major honey bee lineages and mitochondrial ancestry from all four clades as well. Genetic diversity measures from all New World populations equal or exceed those of ancestral populations. Interestingly, the feral honey bee population of San Diego emerges as a reservoir of diverse admixture and high genetic diversity, making it a potentially rich source of genetic material for honey bee breeding.

Ecol Evol. 2022 Feb; 12(2): e8580.

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