Garrido, C., Nanetti, A. 2019. Welfare of managed honey bees. In: The Welfare of Invertebrate Animals. Carere, C., Mather, J. (eds), 69-104. Springer, Cham.
Honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies are “superorganisms”. Individual bees do not display the complete behavioural and ecological range of the species. With its caste structure and division of labour, the colony acts as a functional entity. These social insects are in tight relationship with the environment, which they exploit usually in a symbiotic food-for-pollination exchange. From plants, they draw nourishment for immediate use and to build stores. As a reared animal, A. mellifera has spread far beyond its areas of origin, now living in all inhabited continents. This dispersal made them confront novel stressors, like unsuitable environments and management practices or new pathogens and pests. The severity of these factors extensively obliterated the wild honey bee population in many areas of the world, where the species survives only thanks to domestication. Most of the present scientific knowledge on honey bees is based on managed colonies. This superorganism has high resilience against disturbances, which probably led beekeepers to overlook the colony welfare for long time. Nevertheless, increasing importance is now attributed to honey bee health, also for its economic impact on the honey crop and other productions. Multifaceted is the relationship between honey bees and agriculture. The latter is at the same time a source of food and of hazardous agrochemicals and a factor for the loss in floral biodiversity, which may be detrimental to colony fitness. Nutritional demands of honey bee colonies are a subject of increasing research interest. Global warming is potentially producing a mismatch between honey bee colony development and plant phenology. In addition, it changes the equilibrium with important honey bee pests. This stresses the need of a holistic perspective on the welfare issue.