Big Picture: The Origin of the Honey Bee

A close up photo of a bee, with lots of pollen all over its little bee hairs

A worker honey bee (Apis mellifera), covered in dandelion pollen. 

Environmental science, policy, and management professor Neil Tsutsui and UC Davis researchers Julie Cridland and Santiago Ramírez recently used whole-genome sequence data to reconstruct the evolutionary history of this important pollinator in its native range. They found that the honey bee likely first appeared in northern Africa and the Middle East, then colonized Europe in two separate waves.

Descendants from one of these waves constitute nearly all of our managed bees for agriculture, honey, and other hive products. Published this spring in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution, the research reconciles previous, contradictory scenarios for the origin of modern honey bees and will assist future research on how bees may adapt to climate change, disease, and other threats.

This research was funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation through a grant to the Berkeley Initiative for Global Change Biology.