A research team has said it identified three genetically distinct populations of the Japanese honeybee through whole genome sequencing to comprehensively analyze genetic information, becoming the first in the nation to make such a discovery.

The Japanese honeybee, whose scientific name is Apis cerana japonica, is a native species that has lived in Japan from a long time ago. The species, about 1 centimeter long, is widely distributed nationwide except on Hokkaido, Okinawa and some other islands, with the northern limit of its habitat seen as Aomori Prefecture.

The team, including Tohoku University and Tokyo Metropolitan University scientists, analyzed the genomes of 105 Japanese honeybee individuals collected across the habitat, stretching from the Tohoku region to the Kyushu region, according to its study published in a U.S. academic journal recently.

The genetic compositions were different between honeybees in the northern part of the habitat from the Tohoku to the Chubu region, the central part covering the Chugoku region and the southern part covering Kyushu. Individuals found in the Kinki and Shikoku regions were found to have genes from more than one region.

The team also examined genes unique to the three populations, finding that none of the three have genes to respond to changes in temperatures, indicating the possibility that all three are vulnerable to rising temperatures.

This means that temperature rises caused by global warming could lead to a decline in the species. In addition, if individual honeybees are moved for beekeeping or breeding, they may not be able to adapt to the environment depending on where they are transferred.

"The Japanese honeybee, which carries pollen, is an important insect for plants," said Masakado Kawata, professor emeritus at Tohoku University. "We hope to contribute to the conservation of the species through more detailed genetic analysis."