Saharan Bees Survive 10,000 Year Isolation

honey bee flower photo

Image credit: cygnus921/Flickr

Around the world, honeybee populations are shrinking. Some colonies suffer from infestations of parasitic mites, others, the widespread use of pesticides, and some struggle to cope with changing climatic conditions.

But deep in the Sahara desert, one colony of bees lives on in blissful isolation, as it has for as many as 10,000 years.

honey bee purple flower photo

Image credit: Ryan Wick/Flickr

Honeybees (Apis mellifera), of course, cannot survive in deserts devoid of any substantial vegetation. Across the Sahara, however, bees persist in oasis—often with the aid of local beekeepers who move colonies to foster diversification and production.

In the Libyan oases of Kufra and Brak, bees have survived without this assistance.

Researchers believe the bee populations first entered the region when it was lush and full of plants—at least 5,000 years ago but as many as 10,000 years ago. Since the sands of the desert surrounded these small bastions of vegetation, however, they have been protected from human intervention.

This isolation has saved the bees from many of the threats causing colony collapse around the world, but it also allowed them to develop unique genetic traits found nowhere else.

Now, researchers are racing to unlock the secrets of these unique colonies in hopes their resilience could help bees in other places.

Read more about honeybees:
Beware: Bees Never Forget a Face
Bees Equiped With Microchips Help Explain Hive Declines
Photo Essay: Bees and Beekeepers In Crisis

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