The evolution and importance of Natural Varroa Resistance in Hawaii's Honeybees

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2022: $30,000.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2023
Host Institution Award ID: G146-23-W9212
Grant Recipient: University of Hawaii at Manoa
Region: Western
State: Hawaii
Graduate Student:
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Ethel Villalobos
University of Hawaii
Principal Investigator:
Stephen Martin
University of Salford


  • Animals: bees
  • Animal Products: honey


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, genetics, other, parasite control
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, technical assistance, workshop, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture
  • Natural Resources/Environment: other
  • Pest Management: biological control, disease vectors, economic threshold, genetic resistance
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, public policy, quality of life, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    The Varroa mite is an ecto-parasite of honeybees which feeds on developing and adult
    bees, however, the devastating impact is the link between mites and the spread of a deadly RNA
    virus (Deformed Wing Virus). The combination of mites and Deformed Wing Virus has resulted
    in large-scale colony losses across the world. Exploratory research in Hawaii indicates that
    honeybees are developing Varroa-resistance. The traits that increase colony survivorship and
    reduce the success of this parasite represent a breakthrough in identifying “survivor” stock.
    Surviving colonies have specialized behaviors, including detection and removal of mite infested
    worker brood, this causes a reduction in mite reproductive output, leading to reduced mite
    populations (Grindrod and Martin, 2021). The behavior can be quantified via brood inspection,
    thus a numerical score of the behavior is obtained for each colony. The accuracy of their mite
    detection is determined via mite insertion experiments. Additionally, the heritability of the traits
    can be followed by swapping and/or grafting queens from previously scored colonies.
    Creating a large database on varroa-resistance of Oahu’s colonies will help us understand
    how this process develops and will give the producers the ability to collaborate with researchers
    on topics that are interesting to both groups. Learning how to best utilize natural elements of bee
    behavior, confirm that these colonies can survive without treatment for long periods of time, and
    examining how to manage field interventions to obtain the best possible result, are all exciting
    prospects that derive from the proposed survey of Oahu’s bees.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1- Determine the prevalence of Natural Varroa Resistance (NVR) behavior among the managed bees on Oahu, Hawaii 

    2- Test the heritability and viability of NVR through field experiments 

    3- Develop educational materials about resistant stock and examine how to manage local bee stock with the help of Oahu beekeepers

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.