Development and implementation of a breeding value estimation of the honey bee

Development and implementation of a breeding value estimation of the honey bee

Funding code:  NH1-1
Acronym: HB-ZWS
Involved employees: Prof. Dr. K. Bienefeld, Dr. K. Ehrhardt
Co-operation partners:  
Duration: 1993 -
Financing: Brandenburg, Berlin, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, D.I.B., Ministries of Agriculture and breeding associations of various European countries

There are several reasons why breeding value estimation is more difficult for honey bees than it is for other livestock. Honey bee colony characteristics are an expression of the joint activities of the queen and the worker bees. In addition, recent studies have revealed a negative genetic correlation between the influence of workers and queens. This must be taken into account when selecting in order to optimise genetic progress. In order to accomplish this, the most recent breeding value estimation method used in animal breeding (BLUP animal model) was adapted to the peculiarities of the honey bee. This approach simultaneously considers the queen's and workers' e?ects on the bee colony properties and to calculate the respective breeding value, all available records of related colonies weighted by the degree of relatedness with the respective proband were used. It simultaneously considers influencing environmental e?ects and the genetic merit of mates and reference animals in the test stands. The breeding values for queen and worker influence are calculated separately and the sum of both is the optimal selection criterion.

The advantages of applying the animal model to the breeding value estimation of the honey bee can be summarised as follows:

  1. The total breeding value, which is the composite of the breeding values for queen and worker influences, is the optimal selection criterion for every trait.
  2. Environmental effects, genetic merit of mates and reference bee colonies in the corresponding apiary are all simultaneously corrected for.
  3. All available information from related bee colonies is used and optimally weighted according to their genetic distances to the respective colony.
  4. All breeding values are directly comparable within a population, allowing for cross-regional selection.
  5. Genetic progress within the population is taken into consideration, so that intergenerational comparisons are possible.

The breeding value estimation method is being improved continuously and has been made publically available for different breeds at


  • Bienefeld,  K. (2005) Deutliche Erfolge nach zehn Jahren Zuchtwertschätzung. Deutsches Bienen Journal 13(6): 244-246
  • Bienefeld, K.; Ehrhardt, K., Reinhardt, F. (2007) Genetic Evaluation in the Honey Bee considering Queen and Worker Effects — A  BLUP-Animal Model Approach. Apidologie 38 (1): 77-85.
  • Bienefeld, K.; Ehrhardt, K., Reinhardt, F. (2008) Noticeable success in honey bee selection after the introduction  of genetic evaluation by BLUP American Bee Journal 148 (8): 739- 742
  • Bienefeld  K. , Erhardt K. (2011) Milestone in Bee Breeding – A Total Breeding value simplifies the Selection Decision. The Scottish Beekeeper 88(3): 78-79
  • Costa, C.; Lodesani, M.; Bienefeld, K. (2012) Differences in colony phenotypes across different origins and locations: evidence for genotype by environment interactions in the Italian honeybee (Apis mellifera ligustica)? Apidologie 43 (6), 634-642