Melipona beecheii, called Xunan-Kab in the Yucatec Maya language, is one of 16 stingless bee species native to the rainforests of the Yucatán Peninsula in southern Mexico.Xunan-Kab, like other stingless bees, is a prolific rainforest pollinator critical to the local ecosystem, but deforestation is gravely impacting wild populations.Local beekeepers have kept domesticated colonies of Xunan-Kab for at least 3,000 years, but the practice declined strikingly in recent decades.Today, however, traditional Xunan-Kab husbandry is experiencing a modest revival, offering hope for Mayan communities and rainforests of the Yucatán Peninsula. Engineered by insect intelligence, the hive was a convoluted mesh of waxy secretions and labyrinthine cavities. Worker bees streamed through its recesses. Bulbous pods brimmed with fresh honey. It was both organic and otherworldly, earthy yet exotic, a fierce, self-organizing microcosm fueled with the meticulously harvested pollen of rainforest flowers. It was dizzying to our human eyes. The caretaker of the hive, Rogel Villanueva Gutiérrez, is a biologist specializing in the interactions between bees and tropical forests. “In order to keep the bees, you have to keep the forest,” he said. “In order to keep the forest, you have to keep the bees. The bees can’t live without the forest. The forest can’t live without the bees.” Melipona beecheii is one of 16 stingless bee species that inhabit the forests of the Yucatán Peninsula in southern Mexico. Its name in Yucatec Maya is Xunan-Kab: Royal Lady Bee. Like a regal dynasty whose house has endured the ages, Xunan-Kab has been a part of Yucatec Mayan culture for many generations. Local beekeepers have kept domesticated colonies of Xunan-Kabfor at least 3,000 years, but in modern times they have turned to more productive European honey bees (Apis mellifera) and related Africanized bees. Nobody knows how many Xunan-Kab colonies exist in the wild, but the species, like other stingless bees, is a prolific rainforest pollinator. According to Villanueva, deforestation, whether by humans or hurricanes, is gravely impacting wild populations, but bee husbandry is one way to mitigate the loss of wild hives. In 2005, Villaneuva published the results of a striking longitudinal survey of M. beecheii beekeepers in the Zona Maya of Quintana Roo state, an indigenous enclave settled by Maya separatists in the 19th century. It showed a 93 percent decline in traditional bee husbandry in a quarter century. Of more than 1,000 colonies known to have been maintained in 1981, just 90 survived in 2004. “Continuing that trend, by the year 2008, there will be no domesticated colonies at all,” wrote Villanueva and his colleagues. In late 2018, Mongabay set out to see if his predictions had come true.