Diversity in the Genus Apis

Diversity in the Genus Apis

Diversity in the Genus Apis

Diversity in the Genus Apis


Our view of apis has changed radically in the past few years as a result of recent research on the Asian honeybee. The contributors to this book focus on systematics, genetics, behaviour and ecology to offer a synthesis for understanding this economically and scientifically important genus.


Honey bees constitute a single genus in the family Apidae. One species, Apis mellifera, is native to Europe, Africa and the Middle East; the rest, a handful of species, are found in Asia. All honey bees are similar in morphology, social biology, nest architecture, foraging behavior, and the use by foragers of a complex "dance" to signal direction and distance to food sources. Apis mellifera is one of the best-studied insects in the world, though many basic questions about the biology of this species remain unanswered. However, the similarities among honey bee species have, to a certain extent, blinded us to the tremendous diversity of behavior and ecology found among the Asian species. Even the number of Apis species is not known with any certainty.

A major question in social biology, the single or multiple origins of highly eusocial behavior in the Apidae, is still hotly debated. Its resolution hinges on deciphering the phylogenetic relationships of the four apid subgroups (orchid bees, bumble bees, stingless bees and honey bees). This problem is addressed by three studies in this collection, using morphological data, nuclear DNA characters and mitochondrial DNA characters. The fact that no consensus is reached reflects the difficulty of the problem and shows the need for additional research.

This volume grew out of an informal conference, "Diversity in the Genus Apis," which took place in 1989 at the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America. The conference was inspired largely by the work of Dr. Friedrich Ruttner, whose research on Apis mellifera spans many decades. In The Biogeography and Taxonomy of Honey Bees (1988) Ruttner reviewed and summarized published research on the comparative ecology, behavior, morphology and biogeography of Apis mellifera and the Asian honey bee species. The contrast between the voluminous literature on the western honey bee, Apis mellifera, and the relatively scanty data on the Asian honey bee species highlighted the need for further research on Asian Apis.

Conference participants were Fred C. Dyer (diversity in dance language), Thomas Seeley (comparative energetics in Asian Apis), Gudrun Koeniger (diversity in Apis mating systems), Jean-Marie Cornuet (genetic diversity in Apis mellifera), Gard W. Otis (isozyme variability in the genus Apis), Deborah Smith (mitochondrial DNA diversity in Apis) and Walter S. Sheppard . . .

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