The honey bee is an important element of Swiss fauna, and is perfectly adapted to local climate conditions – able to withstand the long overwintering period, and develop healthily during the active season.
The native bee north of the Alps is Apis mellifera mellifera (the European dark bee), whilst Apis mellifera ligustica is common south of the Alps. In the 1950s, A. m. carnica was imported from Slovenia on a massive scale, and largely displaced A. m. mellifera north of the Alps. Various breeding associations are working to improve traits for beekeeping such as gentleness, comb building and colony build-up, swarm inertia, and productivity. Some associations also consider the purity of the bee breeds.  

Increasingly, however, bees are under pressure from climate change, agricultural management practices, diseases, and pests (primarily the Varroa mite).
At present, Varroa is controlled mainly by means of biotechnical measures and treatments. Establishing a natural balance between the parasite (Varroa) and its host (the bee) could render such interventions unnecessary. Consequently, our long-term research is geared to breeding and selection – an approach that confers various benefits:
i) It improves disease resistance, and overcomes the problems of Varroa treatment and its associated side-effects;
ii) It prevents large-scale bee die-off – a very real concern if natural selection were left to run its course – which would have serious consequences for pollination;
iii) It preserves bee biodiversity as a genetic reservoir for adaptation to future challenges such as diseases and climate change.

Although breeding yields no obvious successes in the short-term, it represents a potentially very worthwhile alternative for the future.

A PhD thesis completed in June 2017 deals with the genetic characterisation of the dark bee in Switzerland and the development of modern tools for identifying the species of bees with which we work.

A PhD thesis has been underway since 2017 on the identification of colonies with natural resistance to Varroa based on quantifiable phenotypical traits such as VSH (Varroa-sensitive hygiene: the proportion of Varroa removed from the brood by workers), a needle test (hygiene behaviour measured against the clearing-out of brood that has died off), or recently developed tests. The aims of this project are twofold: to test whether these tools actually enable the measurement of Varroa tolerance in the field, and to identify genetic markers in order to facilitate breeding for this tolerance.