Honey bee colonies exhibit a wide range of variation in their behaviour, depending on their genetic origin and environmental factors. The COLOSS Genotype-Environment Interactions Experiment gave us the opportunity to investigate the phenotypic expression of the swarming, defensive and hygienic behaviour of 16 genotypes from five different honey bee subspecies in various environmental conditions. In 2010 and 2011, a total of 621 colonies were monitored and tested according to a standard protocol for estimation of expression of these three behavioural traits. The factors: year, genotype, location, origin (local vs. non-local) and season (only for hygienic behaviour) were considered in statistical analyses to estimate their effect on expression of these behaviours. The general outcome of our study is that genotype and location have a significant effect on the analysed traits. For all characters, the variability among locations was higher than the variability among genotypes. We also detected significant variability between the genotypes from different subspecies, generally confirming their known characteristics, although great variability within subspecies was noticed. Defensive and swarming behaviour were each positively correlated across the two years, confirming genetic control of these characters. Defensive behaviour was lower in colonies of local origin, and was negatively correlated with hygienic behaviour. Hygienic behaviour was strongly influenced by the season in which the test was performed. The results from our study demonstrate that there is great behavioural variation among different subspecies and strains. Sustainable protection of local genotypes can be promoted by combining conservation efforts with selection and breeding to improve the appreciation by beekeepers of native stock.
Journal of Apicultural Research and Bee World, 2014, Vol 53, Issue 2, p. 248-260