Mating Frequencies of Honey Bee Queens (Apis mellifera L.) in a Population of Feral Colonies in the Northeastern United States
Across their introduced range in North America, populations of feral honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) colonies have supposedly declined in recent decades as a result of exotic parasites, most notably the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor. Nonetheless, recent studies have documented several wild populations of colonies that have persisted. The extreme polyandry of honey bee queens—and the increased intracolony genetic diversity it confers—has been attributed, in part, to improved disease resistance and may be a factor in the survival of these populations of feral colonies. We estimated the mating frequencies of queens in feral colonies in the Arnot Forest in New York State to determine if the level of polyandry of these queens is especially high and so might contribute to their survival success. We genotyped the worker offspring from 10 feral colonies in the Arnot Forest of upstate New York, as well as those from 20 managed colonies closest to this forest. We found no significant differences in mean mating frequency between the feral and managed queens, suggesting that queens in the remote, low-density population of colonies in the Arnot Forest are neither mate-limited nor adapted to mate at an especially high frequency. These findings support the hypothesis that the hyperpolyandry of honey bees has been shaped on an evolutionary timescale rather than on an ecological one.