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    Honeybee species diversity in the Chinese Himalayan region (Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet)

    Six honeybee species are recorded from the Chinese Himalayan region:

    Apis laboriosa Tibet and Hengduan Mountains Apis dorsata South Hengduan Mountains

    (S Yunnan), Tibet. Apis florea Low elevation areas in Hengduan Mountains, Tibet. Apis andreniformis South Hengduan Mountains

    (S Yunnan) Apis mellifera Introduced Apis cerana Throughout Chinese Himalayan region. Three

    subspecies of this species are distributed in the region:

    Apis cerana indica South Yunnan Apis cerana skorikovi Tibet and NW Yunnan Apis cerana cerana In the areas except for the areas where the above

    two subspecies occur Of the above species, only Apis cerean and Apis melliferan are kept by people, others are wild.

    1. Apis cerana

    There are about 3 million colonies of Apis cerana in China, of which 2 million colonies in the Chinese Himalayan region, including 1 million in Yunnan, more than 150, 000 in Tibet and about 800,000 in Sichuan. Most of the Apis cerana in Tibet are wild.

    Following three subspecies of Apis cerana are found in the Chinese Himalayan region:

    1.1 Apis cerana cerana This subspecies is distributed throughout China but mainly in west Sichuan and west Yunnan. The average honey yield is about 30 kg/year per colony, with maximum up to 90 kg/per conoly. In addition to honey, the pollen yield is 1-2 kg and wax yield is 1 kg.

    1.2 Apis cerana indica This subspecies is mainly distributed in the south part of the Hengduan Mountains. The body of this subspecies is smaller. Its hive has only 3-5 frames. The annual yield of honey, pollen and wax is 10-15 kg, 1 kg, and 0.5 kg, respectively.

    1.3 Apis cerana skorikovi This subspecies is mainly found in south Tibet and nouthwest Yunnan. Its body is of medium size. Its colony has 5-8 frames. The average annual honey yield is 20 kg, with additional yield of 1.5 kg of pollen and 0.8 kg of wax.

    2. Apis mellifera

  • This was introduced to China in 1920s, and there were about 200,000 colonies in 1960s in China. It has higher honey yield with annul average yield of 50 kg and highest yield of 150 kg. In addition, it can produce royal jelly 0.5-1 kg, and 3-3.5 kg pollen in a year. Therefore it is the main species of commercial beekeeping. However, this species cannot be managed as fixed beekeeping and it is more prone to diseases than Apis cerana.

    3. Apis dorsata

    This is a big size bee and mainly distributed in the south part of the Hengduan Mountains. Its hive is built on big trees. Sometimes, as many as 100 colonies are found on one tree. It has one big frame. One colony can produces 5-8 kg honey and 1 kg wax per year.

    4. Apis laboriosa

    This is probably the biggest honeybee. This species is endemic to the Himalayan region. In China it is distributed in south Tibet, west Sichuan and west Yunnan. It has one big frame, which is 0.8-1.5 m long, 0.5-0.95 m wide, and 0.4-1.4 cm thick. One colony can produce 15-20 kg honey and 1.5 kg wax per year.

    5. Apis florea

    This is a small sized honeybee. It is found in the areas below 1900 m in the Hengduan Mountains. One colony can produce 1-1.5 kg honey. It is a good crop pollinator.

    6. Apis andreniformis

    This is again a small sized honeybee, found in the south part of the Hengduan Mountains. The annual honey yield is 1-1,5 kg. It is also a good pollinator.

    7. Trigona

    This is another genus which can make honey. At least 10 species have been reported from South Yunnan. The honey yield is low but its honey is of medicinal use and used by farmers in China.

  • Summary of the Apis species inChinese Himalayan region Species/subspecies

    Apis cerana cerana Apis cerana indica Apis cerana skorikovi Apis millifera Apis dorsata Apis laboriosa Apis florea Apis andreniformis Trigona ssp

    Comb frames

    8-10(16} 3-5

    5-8 16-20 1 1 1 1

    Honey yield (kg) 30 (90) 10-15 20 50(150) 5-8

    15-20 1-1.5 1-1.5 0.5kg

    Pollen yield (kg) 1-2 1

    1.5 3-3.5

    Wax yield (kg) 1 0.5




    II. Impact of Apis mellifera on indigenous bees.

    Research and surveys have been conducted to examine the impact of introduction of Apis mellifera on the local honeybees.

    It is found that Apis cerana is more effective in utilizing the scattered honey plant sources and more suitable to the environmental conditions in the HKH region.

    Because of its higher honey yield and easier management, Apis mellifera was introduced to China in 1920s and it has replaced Apis cerana in many places. At present there are about 8.5 million colonies of honeybees in China, of which only 3 million colonies are Apis cerana, which are restricted mostly in the mountains.

    The following impact of Apis mellifera on Apis cerana in the Chinese Himalayan region has been recognised:

    • Competition for forage sources • Species competition: When forage source is limited, Apis mellifera usually invade to

    hives of Apis cerana to get honey, which leads to fighting between two species. Usually the whole Apis cerana colony will be killed by Apis mellifera.

    • Ectohormone of Apis mellifera may affect the mating of Apis cerana when both are in the region within 20 km. Usually the queen of Apis cerana cannot mate due to ectohormone of Apis mellifera, resulting unfertilised eggs and only male bees being developed, leading to death of the whole colony.

    • Apis mellifera spreading diseases, such as paralysis, American foulbrood, European foulbrood, sacbrood, chalkbrood. Before introduction of Apis mellifera, Apis cerana had not been found infected with these diseases. Once infected, the spread is very fast and loss is severe. For example, in 1972, Apis cerana was infected with sacbrood in Guangdong Province and this was spread very quickly throughout China, resulted in death of many colonies of Apis cerana. In Yunnan Province only, 620,000 of the 770,000 colonies of Apis cerana died due to this disease. From 1992, chalk brood of Apis mellifera is also infecting Apis cerana and this will lead to

  • big loss. Due to diseases, many colonies of Apis cerana died. In this connection, some disease persistent strains were bred and the colonies of Apis cerana in Yunnan Province have risen to 1 million recently.

    The traditional beekeeping method needs improved. In Yunnan, about 90% Apis cerana colonies are kept in the traditional hives of logs or in the wall and collection of honey was done through destroying frames, and the annual honey yield was only 1-2 kg.

    Selection and multiplication; Apis cerana

    Due to the invasion of Apis mellifera and the spread of pests and diseases, the number of Apis cerana colonies decreased to a very low level. It was realised that if proper measures are not taken, Apis cerana may get extinct in some time. It is also realised that if the rearing techniques can be improved to yield sufficient honey and other produces, more farmers will keep this species to increase their cash income. In this connection, selection and multiplication of disease persistent strains have been carried out in different parts of China and very promising achievements have been achieved. For example Some good strains have been bred in Yunnan and northestern China. Some of these have been released to farmers.

    Beekeeping and rural development

    From 1985, the Eastern Bee Research Institute started a programme to expand improved beekeeping methods to farmers through organising training courses. Up to date, the improved method has been used in over 150, 000 colonies of Apis cerana. The average honey yield is enhanced to 10-15 kg, and highest up to 72 kg. 12,000 people in 3, 000 farmer households have got considerably benefits from these improved beekeeping methods.


    The role of pollination of insects including honeybees has not been well recongined and understood in China and need to be greatly promoted. Almost all the beekeepers or farmers keep honeybees exclusively for honey and other products though some farmers realized the role of honeybees in pollination of crops.

    The preliminary survey indicates that in most of the apple and pear production regions, apples and pears are almost 100% hand pollination, as in the case of Maoxian of Sichuan Province and one important pear production county in Shandong Province. Many farmers even thought in the past that bees eat flowers, suck "blood" of the crops, and spread diseases and pests. Local farmers usually required to be paid by the beekeepers because they claim that it is their crops that feed the bees, which is correct.

  • But the issue is that the farmers have not realised the benefits they get from the bee visits to their crops and fruit trees.

    But the figure is not very pessimistic. The field surveys and interviews indicate that many farmers, especially those who are managing fruit trees or other cash crops, have realised the significance of insect pollination. Some beekeepers o/ Apis cerana cum fruit tree growers are using honeybees for pollination of their own cash crops. Beekeepers do not like to use honeybees for pollination of crops and fruits trees because spray of pesticides will kill their bees.

    Further, many farmers think that insect pollination is not as effective as hand pollination, because hand pollination can make sure that proper pollinizers are being used and each flower is pollinated.

    For beekeepers, spray of pesticides and insecticides will kill their bees and they are very reluctant to use their bee for pollination. For this reason a proper manag


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