Can Native Black Honeybee Save UK Bee Industry?

Image credit: The Independent
"Lazy, Aggressive" Native Bee May Save Honey Industry
Hardly a week goes by without new reports about the challenges facing the beekeeping industry. From Colony Collapse Disorder to massive theft of bee hives, it seems pretty clear that these are precarious times for pollinators, and the folks who look after them. That's why it's so good to hear news from the UK that the revival of a hardy, native bee may be just the ticket for this beleaguered industry. The only trouble is, beekeepers have been trying to get rid of this very same bee for years.
Here's more from The Independent about new research into the native black honeybee, a species that put honey on the tables of medieval kings:

For decades, Britain's native black bee has been an outcast. The Victorians threw Apis mellifera mellifera out of hives in favour of more industrious foreign species. Modern beekeepers brand it lazy and aggressive.

Now, the nation's original honeybee is coming in from the cold. Scientists believe the insect that made honey for the tables of medieval kings could reverse the collapse of bee numbers that has imperilled the annual pollination of crops worth £165m.

The Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders' Association (Bibba) believes the black honeybee, which has a thicker coat, could be hardy enough to survive the 21st century. Its researchers hope to map wild populations across the British Isles with a view to reintroducing it to commercial hives, which produce 5,000 tonnes of honey a year. People are asked to take pictures of it whenever they see it.

This raises an important question - as an amateur beekeeper myself, I note that most of the advice in beekeeping books seems to be about maintaining the purity of genetic strains in the interests of optimizing honey production. But whether it's preventing swarming, or replacing a weak queen (as opposed to allowing bees to replace their own), these practices seem to fly in the face of bees own attempts to cross-breed and spread their genes. Yet limiting your gene-pool has never been the best strategy for survival for any other species. Maybe it's time we just relinquished a little control. Or am I missing something?

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