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Article

Unprecedented Density and Persistence of Feral Honey Bees in Urban Environments of a Large SE-European City (Belgrade, Serbia) †

1
Faculty of Biology, University of Belgrade, Studentski Trg 16, 11000 Belgrade, Serbia
2
SOS Mobile Team for Rescue and Removal of Honey Bee Swarms and Colonies, Koste Glavinića 12, 11000 Belgrade, Serbia
3
Department of Genetics of Populations and Ecogenotoxicology, Institute for Biological Research “Siniša Stanković”—National Institute of the Republic of Serbia, University of Belgrade, Bulevar Despota Stefana 142, 11060 Belgrade, Serbia
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Some segments of this study were presented at the Symposium of Serbian Entomologists in 2019: Bila Dubaić, J.; Simonović, S.; Plećaš, M.; Ćetković, A.; Stanisavljević, L. Mass occurrence and longevity of feral honey bee colonies in the highly urbanized area of Belgrade [in Serbian]. In Book of Abstracts of the XII Symposium of Serbian Entomologists, Niš, Serbia, 25–29 September 2019; p. 45.
Academic Editor: Mariano Higes Pascual
Insects 2021, 12(12), 1127; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12121127
Received: 7 November 2021 / Revised: 26 November 2021 / Accepted: 30 November 2021 / Published: 16 December 2021
The western honey bee, a pollinator species that is essential for modern agriculture and food production sustainability, is under various anthropogenic pressures. In the last few decades, these have led to serious worldwide problems concerning the health and stability of honey bee colonies. The importance of wild or feral honey bees has only recently been recognized, as these populations are crucial for research on the processes that enable their survival under such pressures. Here, we present a case of an unmanaged free-living population of honey bees that, unlike in other known studies, live in a highly populated urban environment. This extraordinarily dense feral honey bee population, which is not directly associated with managed apiaries, provided us with a large dataset of various life history parameters that will considerably fill in the knowledge gaps on unmanaged colonies. Furthermore, we want to underline the importance of citizen science in the data collection process and suggest it as a suitable approach to study feral honey bees in urban landscapes. We believe that highly populated urban landscapes can support and reinforce feral honey bees and that similar citizen science projects should be set up in other urban areas or other countries.
It is assumed that wild honey bees have become largely extinct across Europe since the 1980s, following the introduction of exotic ectoparasitic mite (Varroa) and the associated spillover of various pathogens. However, several recent studies reported on unmanaged colonies that survived the Varroa mite infestation. Herewith, we present another case of unmanaged, free-living population of honey bees in SE Europe, a rare case of feral bees inhabiting a large and highly populated urban area: Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. We compiled a massive data-set derived from opportunistic citizen science (>1300 records) during the 2011–2017 period and investigated whether these honey bee colonies and the high incidence of swarms could be a result of a stable, self-sustaining feral population (i.e., not of regular inflow of swarms escaping from local managed apiaries), and discussed various explanations for its existence. We also present the possibilities and challenges associated with the detection and effective monitoring of feral/wild honey bees in urban settings, and the role of citizen science in such endeavors. Our results will underpin ongoing initiatives to better understand and support naturally selected resistance mechanisms against the Varroa mite, which should contribute to alleviating current threats and risks to global apiculture and food production security. View Full-Text
Keywords: Apis mellifera; citizen science; feral honey bees; natural selection; unmanaged honey bees; urban environment Apis mellifera; citizen science; feral honey bees; natural selection; unmanaged honey bees; urban environment
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MDPI and ACS Style

Bila Dubaić, J.; Simonović, S.; Plećaš, M.; Stanisavljević, L.; Davidović, S.; Tanasković, M.; Ćetković, A. Unprecedented Density and Persistence of Feral Honey Bees in Urban Environments of a Large SE-European City (Belgrade, Serbia). Insects 2021, 12, 1127. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12121127

AMA Style

Bila Dubaić J, Simonović S, Plećaš M, Stanisavljević L, Davidović S, Tanasković M, Ćetković A. Unprecedented Density and Persistence of Feral Honey Bees in Urban Environments of a Large SE-European City (Belgrade, Serbia). Insects. 2021; 12(12):1127. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12121127

Chicago/Turabian Style

Bila Dubaić, Jovana, Slađan Simonović, Milan Plećaš, Ljubiša Stanisavljević, Slobodan Davidović, Marija Tanasković, and Aleksandar Ćetković. 2021. "Unprecedented Density and Persistence of Feral Honey Bees in Urban Environments of a Large SE-European City (Belgrade, Serbia)" Insects 12, no. 12: 1127. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12121127

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