Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A fifth major genetic group among honeybees revealed in Syria

Mohamed Alburaki12*, Bénédicte Bertrand1, Hélène Legout1, Sibyle Moulin1, Ali Alburaki4, Walter Steven Sheppard5 and Lionel Garnery13

Author Affiliations

1 CNRS, Laboratoire Evolution, Génomes et Spéciation LEGS, Avenue de la Terrasse, 91189 Gif-sur-Yvette, France

2 Université Laval, Institut de Biologie Intégrative et des Systèmes (IBIS), Pavillon Charles-Eugène Marchand, 1030, Avenue de la Médecine, Québec, QC G1V 0A6, Canada

3 Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin, Versailles, France

4 University of Damascus, Faculty of Agriculture, PO BOX: 30621, Damascus, Syria

5 Department of Entomology, Washington State University, Pollman, WA 99164-6382, USA

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BMC Genetics 2013, 14:117  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-14-117

Published: 6 December 2013



Apiculture has been practiced in North Africa and the Middle-East from antiquity. Several thousand years of selective breeding have left a mosaic of Apis mellifera subspecies in the Middle-East, many uniquely adapted and survived to local environmental conditions. In this study we explore the genetic diversity of A. mellifera from Syria (n = 1258), Lebanon (n = 169) and Iraq (n = 35) based on 14 short tandem repeat (STR) loci in the context of reference populations from throughout the Old World (n = 732).


Our data suggest that the Syrian honeybee Apis mellifera syriaca occurs in both Syrian and Lebanese territories, with no significant genetic variability between respective populations from Syria and Lebanon. All studied populations clustered within a new fifth independent nuclear cluster, congruent with an mtDNA Z haplotype identified in a previous study. Syrian honeybee populations are not associated with Oriental lineage O, except for sporadic introgression into some populations close to the Turkish and Iraqi borders. Southern Syrian and Lebanese populations demonstrated high levels of genetic diversity compared to the northern populations.


This study revealed the effects of foreign queen importations on Syrian bee populations, especially for the region of Tartus, where extensive introgression of A. m. anatolica and/or A. m. caucasica alleles were identified. The policy of creating genetic conservation centers for the Syrian subspecies should take into consideration the influence of the oriental lineage O from the northern Syrian border and the large population of genetically divergent indigenous honeybees located in southern Syria.

Apis mellifera syriaca; Microsatellite; Conservation genetics; Population genetics