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New Information About Stingless Bee Diversity in El Salvador

- September 1, 2015 -

So called “stingless” bees have been managed by man in Mesoamerica since the time of the Mayan civilization, but are threatened by deforestation and urbanization, and traditional beekeeping using stingless bees has declined due to greater use of the more easily managed western honey bee. Despite this, there has hitherto been little information available about stingless bees in El Salvador. A new study published today in the Journal of Apicultural Research for the first time provides us with comprehensive information about stingless bee diversity in the country.

Stingless bees (Meliponinae) are a very diverse group of social bees native to areas of the world, (the Americas and Australia) where the more common social Apis honey bees are not naturally found. In this new study, Dr Carlos Iraheta and colleagues from the University of El Salvador studied bee diversity in each department of the country, the smallest in Central America. They located both wild and managed colonies of stingless bees. Greatly exceeding any previous records, they concluded that at least 20 species of stingless bees are found in the country. They found that the most common wild species was Tetragonisca angustula known locally as Jetaí, and the most common managed species was Melipona beecheii, known locally as Xunan Kab or the Royal Lady bee.

They found that the stingless bee species richness was associated with the vegetation cover, increasing with increased coniferous forest and fruit trees, also increasing with temperature, but decreasing with altitude. The authors found that coastal areas deforested for agriculture in the 1930s had no stingless bees present, whether wild or managed.

IBRA Science Director Norman Carreck says: “It is clear that populations of stingless bees are often fragile and easily influenced by land use changes. This new paper increases our knowledge of the native stingless bees present in this important country. We can only develop efficient strategies for conserving bee diversity if we have reliable information about present abundance.”