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    European honeybee populations are considered to consist only of managed colonies, but recent censuses have revealed that wild/feral colonies still occur in various countries. To gauge the ecological and evolutionary relevance of wild-living honeybees, information is needed on their population demography. We monitored feral honeybee colonies in German forests for up to 4 years through regular inspections of woodpecker cavity trees and microsatellite genotyping. Each summer, about 10% of the trees were occupied, corresponding to average densities of 0.23 feral colonies km-2 (an estimated 5% of the regional honeybee populations). Populations decreased moderately until autumn but dropped massively during winter, so that their densities were only about 0.02 colonies km-2 in early spring. During the reproductive (swarming) season, in May and June, populations recovered, with new swarms preferring nest sites that had been occupied in the previous year. The annual survival rate and the estimated lifespan of feral colonies (n = 112) were 10.6% and 0.6 years, respectively. We conclude that managed forests in Germany do not harbour self-sustaining feral honeybee populations, but they are recolonized every year by swarms escaping from apiaries. © 2022 The Authors.


    Patrick L Kohl, Benjamin Rutschmann, Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter. Population demography of feral honeybee colonies in central European forests. Royal Society open science. 2022 Aug;9(8):220565

    PMID: 35950195

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