Evidence from mitochondrial DNA that African honey bees spread as continuous maternal lineages

Nature. 1989 May 18;339(6221):211-3. doi: 10.1038/339211a0.


African honey bees have populated much of South and Central America and will soon enter the United States. The mechanism by which they have spread is controversial. Africanization may be largely the result of paternal gene flow into extant European populations or, alternatively, of maternal migration of feral swarms that have maintained an African genetic integrity. We have been using both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA restriction fragment length polymorphisms to follow the population dynamics between European and African bees. In earlier reports, we suggested that if African honey bees had distinctive mitochondrial (mt) DNA, then it could potentially distinguish the relative contributions of swarming and mating to the Africanization process. Because mtDNA is maternally inherited, it would not be transmitted by mating drones and only transported by queens accompanying swarms. Furthermore, the presence of African mtDNA would reflect unbroken maternal lineages from the original bees introduced from Africa. The value of mtDNA for population studies in general has been reviewed recently. Here we report that 19 feral swarms, randomly caught in Mexico, all carried African mtDNA. Thus, the migrating force of the African honey bee in the American tropics consists of continuous African maternal lineages spreading as swarms. The mating of African drones to European queens seems to contribute little to African bee migration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / genetics*
  • Breeding
  • DNA, Mitochondrial*
  • Gene Frequency*
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length


  • DNA, Mitochondrial