Recent news reports suggested that the Irish Honey bee was in fact extinct, though these fears have now been quashed as the native Irish honey bee has been discovered in many parts of the country, as reported by the IrishTimes.
The bee was spotted by a postgraduate student from Co. Tipperary, Jack Hassett, who confirmed it was in fact the Irish bee with genetic testing. Mr. Hassett used DNA analysis to find out that there are millions of the bee still in the country and he estimated that there are over 300 hives throughout the country.
The news comes after recent reports by many wildlife organisations suggested that bee numbers had declined so much in recent years, that our native species was now extinct. This has been one of the main influences by the proposal to introduce a ban on glycophosphates.
“It’s a fantastic result, especially for all the different beekeepers around the country who’ve been trying to preserve the native Irish bee. We sampled 300 hives from 80 sites,” said Mr Hassett
Jack suggested that methods formerly used to detect the species of bee were not exact, This was done measuring wing length, body length among other steps. Though Jack says DNA ensures the results are definite. It was thought that bee numbers had died out during a disease outbreak amongst the English bee back in the 19th century. The two species fall under the same subspecies, Apis mellifera mellifera, meaning they are very similar.
These results, published by Hassett, suggest that the worries about the native bee were unfounded and work could now be done using the Irish bee to repopulate countries in Europe.
“We have found that not only are these black bees a pure form of Apis mellifera mellifera, but they also have markers specific only to Ireland. The vast majority of the DNA samples taken showed greater than 95 per cent purity for Apis mellifera mellifera; the native honeybee for northern Europe and Ireland,” he said.
Before adding, “The study exceeded all our expectations and has excited beekeepers across the continent. It has belied the myth that there is no native Irish honey bee in existence.”
Albert Einstein famously once said, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination … no more men!”.
This now famous quote is part of the recent panic over bee numbers. It has led to investigations into the role the bee undertakes and the impact any loss would have on the environment. It is thought it would have a huge effect on food diversity and quality.
“It is imperative that we act now to protect this unique population that has adapted on this island over thousands of years. The distinctive Irish population has been under threat from the importation of queens and hives, and this practice has to stop if we are to prevent destruction of our unique honeybee through hybridisation and disease,” said Jack.
Botanist Prof Jane Stout of TCD described the discovery as “a really interesting finding”.
“It is interesting that the Irish bees tested in this study were shown to be overwhelmingly ‘pure’ Apis mellifera mellifera – either there have been fewer attempts to interbreed with or establish other subspecies here, or it is better adapted to our environmental conditions. Whatever the case, Ireland appears to be one of the few places where this subspecies has persisted,” she said.
She did warn though that the Irish species is more suited to an Atlantic climate, meaning that it may not be able to help repopulate other countries, especially in Northern Europe.
“It does mean that we should have good biosecurity with regards to honeybee imports – both to protect the genetic integrity of native populations, and to reduce disease spread.”, said Jane.
This view was shared by Dr Úna Fitzpatrick, who is an ecologist at the National Biodiversity Data centre as well as a chair on the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan. She described the news as “fantastic news”.
This could really ‘bee’ the news we’ve all been waiting for.