Digging into the genomic past of Swiss honey bees by whole-genome sequencing museum specimens

Melanie Parejo, David Wragg, Dora Henriques, Jean-Daniel Charrière, Andone Estonba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Historical specimens in museum collections provide opportunities to gain insights into the genomic past. For the Western honey bee, Apis mellifera L., this is particularly important since its populations are currently under threat worldwide and have experienced many changes in management and environment over the last century. Using Swiss Apis mellifera mellifera as a case study, our research provides important insights into the genetic diversity of native honey bees prior to the industrial-scale introductions and trade of non-native stocks during the 20th century - the onset of intensive commercial breeding and the decline of wild honey bees following the arrival of Varroa destructor. We sequenced whole-genomes of 22 honey bees from the Natural History Museum in Bern collected in Switzerland, including the oldest A. mellifera sample ever sequenced. We identify both, a historic and a recent migrant, natural or human-mediated, which corroborates with the population history of honey bees in Switzerland. Contrary to what we expected, we find no evidence for a significant genetic bottleneck in Swiss honey bees, and find that genetic diversity is not only maintained, but even slightly increased, most probably due to modern apicultural practices. Finally, we identify signals of selection between historic and modern honey bee populations associated with genes enriched in functions linked to xenobiotics, suggesting a possible selective pressure from the increasing use and diversity of chemicals used in agriculture and apiculture over the last century.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Early online date2 Sep 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Sep 2020


  • Apis mellifera mellifera
  • museum genomics
  • genetic diversity
  • selection signatures
  • haplotype phasing
  • biodiversity

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