MEDIBEES - Monitoring the Mediterranean honey bee subspecies and their resilience to climate change for the improvement of sustainable agro-ecosystems

About Us

The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is a human-managed insect playing a pivotal role in crop and wild plant pollination. Thanks to its activity, crops improve qualitatively and quantitatively and plants protect themselves against pests. FAO estimated that approx. one-third of all plants or plant products consumed by humans and used for animal feeding depend directly or indirectly on bee pollination. On the other hand, beekeeping provides subsistence to hundreds of thousands of beekeepers in the Mediterranean area thanks to the honey -a traditional ingredient of the Mediterranean diet-, pollen, wax, royal jelly, propolis, and apitoxin. Actions directed to the conservation of A. mellifera subspecies in the Mediterranean are expected to promote quantity and quality of crops, with a direct increase in food availability, therefore contributing to tackling the problem of food security in an efficient, cost-effective and sustainable way. Climate change is expected to increase the stress factors affecting the bees, especially in this region, reducing both pollination efficiency and production potential. Up to now, there is an incomplete understanding of the natural adaptation mechanisms developed by the different subspecies present in the Mediterranean basin, and so the basic knowledge needed for future selection programs aiming to improve bee stocks for environmental changes. The project includes 9 partners from 8 Mediterranean countries (Algeria, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Portugal, Spain, and Turkey), covering 10 local subspecies of A. mellifera genetic diversity, i.e. adapted to highly diverse conditions of the region. MEDIBEES pretends to unravel the differential genetic background of the Mediterranean subspecies, understanding their adaptation to the local conditions, and therefore to characterize their resilience to climate change. Valorization of honey and beekeeping by-products will be also approached.

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Period of Implementations

May 1, 2021 - Apr 30, 2025

Total Budget

EUR 1.749.999,88

OUR IMPACT

Goals

MEDIBEES aims to generate new knowledge on the genetics of bees and their adaptation to climate change, develop new genetic tools to promote the selection of climate change-resilient A. mellifera breeds, train beekeepers (who are directly involved in the project) to use Good Management Practices, and valorise beekeeping products and by-products.

Objectives

1. Genetic mapping of Apis mellifera (Western honeybee) subspecies in all the participating countries (A.m. anatoliaca, A.m. caucasica, A.m. iberiensis, A.m. intermissa, A.m. ligustica, A.m. meda, A.m. sahariensis, A.m. siciliana, A.m. syriaca and A.m. ruttneri) to determine the genetic traits controlling their adaptation to Mediterranean environments. Genetic basis of adaptations to heat, drought, resistance to parasites/pathogens and ultraviolet exposure. This objective will be approached by: 1.1. Field and laboratory studies to determine the adaptation of honeybee subspecies to the different stressors related to Mediterranean conditions. 1.2. Determination of genetic differences between subspecies and their connections to laboratory and field results. Development of genetic tools for genetic characterization of local bee subspecies. 1.3. Assessment of introgression between honeybee lineages. Determination of the existence of ecotypes in each participating country and their possible adaptations to local conditions. 1.4. Transcriptomic analysis of genes related to resilience. Gene expression and implication in adaptation. 2. Valorisation of local Mediterranean subspecies. 2.1. Comparison of performance of local vs. introduced subspecies, including economic aspects. 2.2. Training of beekeepers in the use of efficient, cost-effective and environmentally/socially sound management techniques to contribute to food security, nutrition and health. Inclusion of women in the beekeeping activity. 2.3. Development of a highly dense multi-subspecies SNP-chip (SNP panels) to certify subspecies/ecotypes for breeding programmes. Selection of genes underlying adaptation to heat, drought, UV exposition, resistance to diseases and pests, and abiotic contaminants to mitigate the impact of climatic change. Promoting breeding programmes to select relevant traits. 2.4. Melissopalynologycal and organoleptic study on specific honey types produced in the participating countries, and determination of the viability of Quality labels. 2.5. Valorisation of organic by-products generated by the beekeeping industry. Determination of their potential as soil fertilizers and biofumigants (applicable to biosolarization) and their contribution to the circular economy.

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