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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Replace honey-hunting with apiculture Bee Conservation

Key messages

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  • One study reported that a programme to enhance take-up of stingless beekeeping in southern Mexico increased the number of managed colonies in the area.
  • Five trials contributed to scientific improvement of stingless beekeeping methods. Two controlled trials showed that either brewer's yeast (one trial) or a mix with 25% pollen collected by honey bees Apis mellifera (one trial) can be used as a pollen substitute to feed Scaptotrigona postica in times of pollen scarcity. A study on the island of Tobago found a wooden hive design with separate, different-shaped honey and brood chambers allowed honey to be extracted without damaging the brood. One trial showed that 50 g of comb with mature pupae is enough to start a new daughter colony of S. mexicana. One trial found brood growth was higher in traditional log hives than in box hives with internal volumes exceeding 14 litres, and recommended smaller box hives.
  • We have captured no clear evidence about whether these activities help conserve bees or enhance native bee populations.



Supporting evidence from individual studies


Two controlled trials in Ribeirão Prêto, São Paulo, Brazil tested different pollen substitute diets for their ability to support development in stingless bee workers of the species Scaptotrigona postica. One trial with two groups of 10 bees for each diet found brewer's yeast was the best pollen substitute, leading to better development of the ovaries and hypopharyngeal gland than two brands of commercially available pollen substitute, or bulrush Typha pollen. The control group, fed on pollen collected by other S. postica bees, developed better than all the other groups (Zucoloto 1977).


The second trial, with groups of 15 worker bees given each experimental diet found that a mix of S. postica-collectedpollen with 25% Apis mellifera-collected pollen allowed equivalent development in S. postica workers to pure S. postica pollen, but higher proportions of A. mellifera pollen in the mix led to reduced development and lower pollen consumption (Testa et al. 1981).


Sommeijer (1999) described a hive design, the 'Utrecht University-Tobago Hive' (UTOB hive), with separate and different-shaped honey and brood chambers. Three years of testing on the island of Tobago found that the stingless bee species Melipona favosa formed colonies in this type of hive with brood confined to the brood chamber and a single layer of honey and pollen pots in the honey chamber. Honey could then be extracted with little disturbance to the brood or pollen stores.


A replicated trial with wild-caught colonies of the stingless bee Scaptotrigona mexicana, endemic to Mexico and Guatemala, demonstrated that new colonies can be propagated from old colonies with 50 g of brood, containing approximately 2,750 mature pupae, along with 3,000-4,000 workers, 100 g of honey and 10 g of wax (Arzaluz et al. 2002). Five colonies started with 50 g of brood and five started with 90 g of brood did not differ in their average weight gain over 10 weeks.


In a replicated trial, Quezada-Euan & González-Acereto (1994) found that brood growth was faster in colonies of Melipona beecheii housed in traditional log hives (internal volume 10 litres) than in those housed in more modern box hives (internal volumes 14.3 and 14.5 litres). The authors suggested this is due to difficulties with the bees' ability to regulate temperature. They recommended reducing the internal volume of box hives by about one third.


González-Acereto et al. (2006) report results of a programme of measures to promote beekeeping with native stingless bees in the state of Yucatán, Mexico. The program involved setting up a central bank of colonies available on loan, providing training courses and support for beekeepers and developing beekeeping techniques, new uses for stingless bees and their products. Around 150 people were trained in stingless beekeeping over five years, and this resulted in 324 new colonies being kept. After six years, the colony bank, developed with colonies obtained from the wild after clearance of forest patches, contained 377 colonies of 10 native stingless bee species.

Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Dicks, L.V., Showler, D.A. & Sutherland, W.J. (2010) Bee conservation: evidence for the effects of interventions. Pelagic Publishing, Exeter, UK