- Animals: bees
- Animal Production: animal protection and health, livestock breeding
- Education and Training: demonstration
- Pest Management: genetic resistance, integrated pest management, traps
As small hive beetles move into areas of the Midwest that still have feral bee colonies, it is important to preserve bee genetics that have been naturally selected for success in those geographical areas. The environmental pressures of natural selection include: disease, parasites, predation, chemical exposure, temperature extremes, plant diversity, and lack of and extreme fluctuations in rainfall and humidity. The loss of feral honeybee genetics is the first part of the problem addressed here.
The second part of the problem is that there are few sources for acquiring locally adapted bees. The success in beekeeping for both hobbyists and honey producers in the Midwest unfortunately depends on queens bred elsewhere. The selection available is for colonies that can winter in Texas, summer in North Dakota, and pollinate almonds in California. Well raised queens breed for specific geographic areas will benefit, bees, beekeepers, and local farmers.
While strong colonies can deal with small hive beetles, swarms and weakened colonies are often destroyed.
Strong colonies will only survive until they reach a temporary weakened state which naturally occurs in a colony. The first part of the solution is to collect swarms from strong, feral colonies and use integrated pest management (IPM) and sound beekeeping practices to ensure their survival, thereby preserving their genetic diversity. Some of this diversity could also be found in local “survivor stock”.
A second part of the solution is to systematically place colonies with Russian queens expressing VSH hygienic behavior where they may provide drones to feral virgin queens which are in the process of supersedure. This will also give uncaptured feral colonies some resistance to their main threat, varroa mites.
The immediate goal with this project is to find and maintain the feral bee genetics before they are lost as the have been across the country. The long term goal, beyond this project, is to breed different bee stocks that are acclimated to the region for different traits.
For the past two years, the keynote speakers at the Kansas Honey Producers Association meetings (Gary Reuter from the University of Minnesota and Dr. Larry Connor from Wicwas Press) have stressed the importance of queen production at the local level. Online research of both SARE and non-SARE information shows a trend in this direction. Additionally, both spoke to the importance of genetic diversity in honeybees, which is important for breeding.
I propose that three lines be bred: A “hobbyist” bee stock with a very docile temperament, moderate honey production, and moderate disease resistance, a “Sideliner” bee stock which could be more aggressive, but are good honey producers, and a “pollinator” bee stock which are very disease resistant, low maintenance, could be prone to swarming, and could be weak honey producers if they are efficient with stores. All three lines should be acclimated for climate (i.e.: appropriate spring buildup, heat tolerance, wintering ability, hygiene.) Once this was accomplished, the final project would involve local production of quality queens from this stock.
There is an effort to increase numbers of new beekeepers and bring awareness to the public regarding the environmental condition of pollinators. Increased numbers of hobbyist beekeepers and local beekeeping groups can fuel the movement to a more sustainable environment by their interaction with and education of the general public. Whether new beekeepers want to sell honey or just pollinate their garden and neighborhood, the more successful they are, the longer they are likely to stay involved. Rearing local queens acclimated to their area with good genetics and breeding them for a specific use could increase the success beginning beekeepers have and keep them involved.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Mitigate the loss of acclimated feral and survivor stock honeybee genetic diversity caused by the introduction of small hive beetles.
- Provide future breeding stock for local and diversified production of queens that will increase the success of sideliner and hobbyist beekeepers.