Conserving African honey bees


Have you ever thought what would happen if honey bees disappeared? A world without honey bees and their pollination services also means a world without many of our food sources. Think: fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds – staples for most of us! There is even a reported 300% increase in demand for pollination services because of span-scale agriculture.

The threat is very real. Honey bee populations have been plummeting as the natural world suffers mounting ecological damage and environmental threats. Now, more than ever, a deeper understanding of the behaviour and chemistry of living organisms, such as honey bees, has become essential.


According to Dr Abdullahi Yusuf, Research Fellow at the University of Pretoria's Department of Zoology and Entomology, the solution lies in understanding honey bees’ ecology and providing solid information that will help to inform decisions and policies to protect these insects nationally, on the continent and beyond.

Dr Yusuf has become an expert in the behaviour and chemical ecology of social insects. His work provides valuable insights into their specifics, including how they communicate, their habitats and the need for their careful utilisation, as well as why our interference should be limited. His research also focuses on how we can develop sustainable environmental solutions to managing insects without relying on unsustainable synthetic compounds.

“By understanding how one gets 30 000 individuals (the estimated number of bees in a hive) organised, you start to understand how that systems reacts to changes and stresses. All of this contributes to improving bee health, conserving African honeybees and securing sustainable food production,” he explains.


Dr Yusuf’s report on the pheromones of the West African and Island populations of honey bees has shown how they relate and differ to other well-studied sub-species on the continent and further afield. On the one hand, it provides ecological evidence of their evolution and on the other, a complementary classification tool to differentiate these sub-species.

He explains why this is so important:

“Although honey bees appear similar, they are very different. Because of the need for bees’ pollination and other eco-system services, they are often moved from region to region. However, moving or replacing native sub-species with non-native ones could pose a threat to biodiversity, conservation and possibly food security.”

In 2015, Dr Yusuf was awarded a Georg Foster fellowship for experienced researchers by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He will spend 18 months at the Molecular Ecology Research Group in Martin Luther University, Halle-Wittenberg, Germany to work on the genetic aspects of honey bees.

For more information, contact Dr Yusuf on: [email protected]

For an overview of his research:

Dr Abdullahi Yusuf

January 1, 2015

  • Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute

Related Gallery

Other Related Research

  • Story

    UP study finds that lions hunt particular cattle types

    When wild lions sneak up on a herd of cattle to grab an easy meal, the dice seem to be loaded more heavily against certain herd members, which are more likely than the others to be killed and eaten, according to a new study conducted by scientists from the University of Pretoria (UP).

  • Gallery

    Domesticated cattle are fast food for lions

    Lions show specific preferences for particular cattle types. They exploit cattle when available and repeatedly kill cattle in areas where they are left unguarded or unprotected, also targeting animals that are easiest to catch. Lion populations across Africa have dropped precipitously over the past century, putting them at risk of local extinction in some areas, especially when they move out of...

  • Story

    UP vet team gives macaw new lease of life with 3D-printed beak

    Many people get prosthetic titanium limbs as a result of illness or injury. Now, thanks to a University of Pretoria (UP) team led by Professor Gerhard Steenkamp, a veterinary specialist in dentistry and maxillofacial surgery at the Faculty of Veterinary Science, a macaw has been given a new lease of life with a 3D-printed beak.

Copyright © University of Pretoria 2020. All rights reserved.