Genetics 14
Origins of the black bee - Apis. m. mellifera - some conclusions
expansion of apis mellifera
expansion of apis mellifera
expansion of apis mellifera
honeybee elvolution
The common ancestor of our honey bees from fossil evidence was alive 120 million years ago.
It was my intention to try to find the evidence which answers the question: Where do my black bees in Ireland come from?
A summary of possible answers is given in the diagrams below.

Evolutionary Stages

Firstly a phylogenetic chart is shown with approximate times for each evolutionary stage. Little data seems to be available for the times of divergence of A. florea and A. dorsata although it is generally stated that A. florea is the more ancient of the two species.

In a paper published in 2014 the authors provided evidence for the times of the emergence of A. mellifera, the 4 mellifera Groups, and their many sub-species.
Apis. florea is an ancient species.
Little information as to when it first existed.
Apis. dorsata Little information on the date when it first appeared.
Apis. cerana and mellifera diverged 6 - 9 million years ago.
A. mellifera:
Within the 4 Groups sub- species appeared 13000 - 38000 years ago.
Click for a pop-up of a list of the 10 known species of Apis
A. mellifera evolved into Groups about 300 000 years ago.
The C and O Groups diverged about 165 000 years ago.
The Expansion of Apis mellifera

Three apparently conflicting hypotheses have been proposed for the expansion of A. mellifera. Each is illustrated in a map below.
The results from mtDNA data
(JM Cornuet and L Garnery 1992)
was used to propose that the expansion of A. mellifera was from an origin in the Middle East.
The A group entered Africa.
The C group entered Europe following a route along the north Mediterranean coast.
Whilst the M group followed a northerly route over the Black Sea and so into northern Europe.
In the 'Thrice Out of Africa (2007)' paper (using SNP's) the authors proposed the origin of A. mellifera was in Africa from where the other groups expanded.
Ruttner on the basis of only morphological data proposed the origin of A. mellifera to be in the Middle East. The M group entered Europe via a route from North Africa through the Iberian peninsular.
The C group took a route along the north Mediterranean coast.
Ruttner's proposal was supported in the paper: From where did the Western Honeybee (Apis mellifera) originate? (2012) mention on the previous page.
The last interglacial period reached its peak about 23 000 years ago. The area covered by ice is shown on the map. South of the ice sheet was tundra. At this time A. m. mellifera would have found refuge in southern France or along the costal edge of northern Spain.
ice sheet distribution
After the Ice Age
About 8000 years ago as the ice retreated pollen analysis has shown that the tundra turned to grassland and then to woodland of birch, willow and pine, followed later by hazel, oak, and elm. The bees followed breaking out from their refugia and moving north over the land bridge into England, and eastward along a northern Europe boundary as far east as the Urals.
During the Middle Ages honey from bees in the Russian forests was a major export showing how the black bee could survive Russian winters. The ability of the black bee to colonise this huge area and adapt to the various climates say much for its adaptability.
How did the black bee get to Ireland? Clearly not over a land bridge; the Irish Sea had already separated Ireland from Great Britain by the time bees had arrived in England. The bee could only have been introduced by those early Bronze Age settlers.
This rock painting of a honey gatherer from the Spider Cave at Bicorp in Valencia is dated about 8000 years old. And proves that bees were present in Spain at this time.
But what were the bees?
A. m. mellifera or
A. m. iberiensis
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