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This is an important text summarising in one volume current scientific knowledge about the Asian species of Apis. Apis mellifera, the honey bee species indigenous to Africa, the Middle East and Europe has been studied intensively, to the extent that even its genome sequence is known. However, the genus Apis, evolving over 35 million years, consists of more than just mellifera: at least eight more species exist, and these are in Asia.
During only the past 20 years has the world’s bee research community focussed on these Asian species, interest first being aroused when the predatory mite Varroa was introduced to Apis mellifera populations, and it became important to understand how the mites’ natural host species (Apis cerana) copes with these predators. The first Chapter is ‘To be a honey bee’, and introduces the genus Apis. The next describes the three subgenera: Micrapis (Apis florea and Apis andreniformis), Megapis (Apis dorsata and Apis laboriosa) and Apis (Apis cerana, Apis koschevnikovi, Apis nuluensis, Apis nigrocincta, and Apis mellifera), their distribution and distinguishing features.
Chapter 3 describes their evolution; Chapter 4 covers speciation and biogeography; Chapter 5 describes dance communication and foraging; Chapter 6, Reproduction, swarming and migration, explains that tropical races of bees abscond and migrate. The migration of the Megapis bees is one of nature’s mysteries: microsatellite DNA fingerprinting has shown that colonies of Apis dorsata in Borneo return to the same building or tree where they nested in previous years; how they do it is not yet known, although possible explanations are outlined here. Chapter 7 discusses worker sterility, kin selection and polyandry, and Chapter 8 covers nesting biology and defence, an area in which the different species have adopted markedly different strategies. Chapter 9 is named ‘Parasites, pathogens, predators and a plant’ – the plant in question being a Cymbidium orchid that attracts Apis cerana drones, yet provides them apparently with no reward for the pollination they bring about. Chapter 10 describes human interactions with these bees, and Chapter 11 discusses their conservation: including interesting explanation of how to estimate whether honey hunting might be sustainable. The final Chapter outlines future research directions, and a useful key for identification is also provided.
As Thomas Seeley puts it in his foreword to the book: ‘We humans now recognize that our own species is exquisitely adapted to the razor-thin biosphere covering the planet: hence our own survival depends on understanding and protecting the rest of life.’ This excellently researched, well-written and readable book will help everyone interested in the biology and behaviour of honeybees to understand and appreciate much more about how these amazing insects have evolved to suit different environments.