Environmental physiology of the invasion of the Americas by Africanized honeybees

Jon Harrison, Jennifer Fewell, Kirk E. Anderson, Gerald M. Loper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


The expansion of Africanized honeybees (AHB) through the Americas has been one of the most spectacular and best-studied invasions by a biotype. African and European honeybees (EHB) hybridize, but with time, tropical and subtropical American environments have become dominated by AHB that exhibit only 20-35% genetic contribution from western European bees, and a predominance of African behavioral and physiological traits. EHB persist in temperate environments. Clines between AHB and EHB exist in ecotones of South and Central America, and are forming in North America. What individual-level genetic, behavioral and physiological traits determine the relative success of the AHB as an invader in the neotropics, and of the EHB in temperate areas? Preference for pollen versus nectar may be an important trait mediating these ecological trade-offs, as preference for pollen enhances nutrient intake and brood production for the AHB in the tropics, while a relative preference for nectar enhances honey stores and winter survival for EHB. AHB exhibit morphological (higher thorax-to-body mass ratios) and physiological (higher thorax-specific metabolic rates) traits that may improve flight capacity, dispersal, mating success and foraging intake. Enhanced winter longevity, linked with higher hemolymph vitellogenin levels, may be a key factor improving winter survival of EHB. Data from South America and distributions of AHB in the southwestern United States suggest that AHB-EHB hybrids will extend 200 km north of regions with a January maximal temperatures of 15-16°C. The formation of biotypic clines between AHB and EHB represents a unique opportunity to examine mechanisms responsible for the range limit of invaders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1110-1122
Number of pages13
JournalIntegrative and comparative biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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