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

Insects. 2021 Dec 16;12(12):1127. doi: 10.3390/insects12121127.


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.

Keywords: Apis mellifera; citizen science; feral honey bees; natural selection; unmanaged honey bees; urban environment.