Document Type



Master of Science (MS)


Environmental Studies

First Advisor's Name

David Bray

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Suzanne Koptur

Third Advisor's Name

Brad Bennett

Fourth Advisor's Name

Rogel Villanueva Gutierrez

Date of Defense



The Maya of the Yucatan region have a long history of keeping the native stingless bees (subfamily Meliponinae). However, market forces in the last two decades have driven the Maya to favor the use of invasive Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) for producing large quantities of high quality honey which has an international market. Furthermore, the native bees traditionally used by the Maya are now disappearing, along with the practice of keeping them.

An interdisciplinary approach was taken in order to determine the social factors behind the decrease in stingless beekeeping and the ecological driving forces behind their disappearance from the wild. Social research methods included participant observation with stingless beekeepers, Apis beekeepers, and marketing intermediaries. Ecological research methods included point observations of commonly known melliferous and polliniferous plants along transects in three communities with different degrees of human induced ecosystem disturbance.

The stingless bee species most important to the Maya, Melipona beecheii, has become extremely rare, and this has caused a breakdown of stingless beekeeping tradition, compounded with the pressure of the market economy, which fuels Apis beekeeping and has lessened the influence of traditional practices. The community with the heaviest amount of human induced ecosystem disturbance also had the lowest degree of bee diversity, while the area with the most intact ecosystem had the highest diversity of stingless bees, though Apis mellifera was still the dominant species. Aggressive competitive behavior involving physical attacks by Apis mellifera against stingless bees was observed on several occasions, and this is a new observation previously unreported by science. Human induced disturbance of the ecosystem and competition with the Africanized honey bee are affecting the diversity and abundance of various bee species.




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