Open Access Research article

Accuracy of the unified approach in maternally influenced traits - illustrated by a simulation study in the honey bee (Apis mellifera)

Pooja Gupta12*, Norbert Reinsch3, Andreas Spötter1, Tim Conrad2 and Kaspar Bienefeld1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Bee Research Hohen Neuendorf, 16540 Hohen Neuendorf, Germany

2 Institute of Mathematics, Freie Universitaet Berlin, Berlin, Germany

3 Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology, 18196 Dummerstorf, Germany

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BMC Genetics 2013, 14:36  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-14-36

Published: 6 May 2013



The honey bee is an economically important species. With a rapid decline of the honey bee population, it is necessary to implement an improved genetic evaluation methodology. In this study, we investigated the applicability of the unified approach and its impact on the accuracy of estimation of breeding values for maternally influenced traits on a simulated dataset for the honey bee. Due to the limitation to the number of individuals that can be genotyped in a honey bee population, the unified approach can be an efficient strategy to increase the genetic gain and to provide a more accurate estimation of breeding values. We calculated the accuracy of estimated breeding values for two evaluation approaches, the unified approach and the traditional pedigree based approach. We analyzed the effects of different heritabilities as well as genetic correlation between direct and maternal effects on the accuracy of estimation of direct, maternal and overall breeding values (sum of maternal and direct breeding values). The genetic and reproductive biology of the honey bee was accounted for by taking into consideration characteristics such as colony structure, uncertain paternity, overlapping generations and polyandry. In addition, we used a modified numerator relationship matrix and a realistic genome for the honey bee.


For all values of heritability and correlation, the accuracy of overall estimated breeding values increased significantly with the unified approach. The increase in accuracy was always higher for the case when there was no correlation as compared to the case where a negative correlation existed between maternal and direct effects.


Our study shows that the unified approach is a useful methodology for genetic evaluation in honey bees, and can contribute immensely to the improvement of traits of apicultural interest such as resistance to Varroa or production and behavioural traits. In particular, the study is of great interest for cases where negative correlation between maternal and direct effects and uncertain paternity exist, thus, is of relevance for other species as well. The study also provides an important framework for simulating genomic and pedigree datasets that will prove to be helpful for future studies.

Maternal effects; Single-step approach; Genetic evaluation; Single nucleotide polymorphism