An Integrated Response to Pollination-Related Problems Resulting from Parasitic Honey-Bee Mites, the Africanized Honey Bee, and honey-bee pathogens

1991 Annual Report for LNE91-027

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1991: $100,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1993
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $284,376.00
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Nicholas Calderone
ARS Bee Research Laboratory

An Integrated Response to Pollination-Related Problems Resulting from Parasitic Honey-Bee Mites, the Africanized Honey Bee, and honey-bee pathogens


This project is addressing pollination-related problems from four perspectives. It is demonstrating a honey bee breeding project designed to develop mite-tolerant bees and offer alternative mite controls; it is evaluating naturally occurring plant compounds for mite control; it is developing an expert system model for bee keepers; and it is developing an educational video and booklet to help growers evaluate rented colonies.

Honey bees provide essential pollination for over 90 commercial crops in the US. The added-value attributable to honey-bee pollination is estimated to be $19.9 billion. Farmers receive this service at a cost of only $50 million -- a return of nearly $398.00 for every dollar invested. The recent introduction of two parasitic honey-bee mites, coupled with the arrival of the Africanized honey bee in the southern US, threatens to destabilize the crop production system by reducing the number and quality of colonies available for pollination.

Mites kill colonies. One chemical agent is presently available for control of each mite. This leaves the agricultural community at risk should the mites evolve resistance. Africanized bees are not manageable for pollination. Recent evidence demonstrates extensive hybridization of Africanized and domestic stocks in Argentina. North American honey-bee stocks are of the same origin as domestic Argentinean stocks. Consequently, extensive hybridization with North American stock can be expected. Queen- and package-bee producers in the US do not possess the skills to protect the germplasm of their production stocks from introgression by this undesirable germplasm. These developments seriously compromise the ability of beekeepers to provide high-quality, manageable colonies for pollination.

We propose a comprehensive package to resolve the pollination-related problems facing the agricultural community. A demonstration honey-bee breeding project will be established. Screening a large number of colonies for mite-tolerance will provide stock for incorporation into a closed-breeding-population maintained by instrumental insemination and genetically isolated from undesirable germplasm. Seminars will be conducted to facilitate the transfer of skills required for selection and maintenance of a closed-breeding-population to the queen- and package-bee industry. Africanized-free, mite-tolerant stock will be made available to the industry.

Screening assays conducted at the ARS Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, MD identified several botanical compounds with low mammalian toxicity and significant acaricidal activity. Field trials will be conducted to evaluate the efficacy of these compounds as mite control agents in full-sized colonies.

Maximizing the efficiency of beekeeping operations has become a critical concern. We propose to conduct an economic analysis of mid-sized, regional beekeeping operations to determine relationships among economic variables affecting operating efficiency. We will develop a user-friendly, computer-based Expert System model, based on that economic analysis, for use by beekeepers to enable them to make more efficient operating decisions.

As the number and quality of colonies available for pollination diminishes, the proper management of remaining colonies becomes critical. Equally important is each grower's ability to judge the quality of rented colonies. We propose an education program that addresses these needs. First is a demonstration of techniques to help beekeepers maximize the efficiency of colonies used for pollination. Second is a demonstration to teach growers techniques for evaluating rented colonies.


(1) The development of mite-tolerant, Africanized-free, honey-bee breeding stock.

This project will be conducted as a demonstration project and will serve as a mechanism by which to transfer closed-breeding-population technology to private-sector, queen- and package-bee producers. It is anticipated that a significant portion of the queen- and package-bee industry will shift to more northerly states, including the northeast. Therefore, not only will our demonstration project ensure the availability of manageable, mite-tolerant stock for pollination services, it will also act as a technical resource, assisting the development of a new industry in the region.

(2) The evaluation of naturally occurring, botanical compounds, with low mammalian toxicity, for control of parasitic mites.

(3) An economic analysis of the requirements for the successful operation of mid-sized, regional beekeeping operations.

These operations must be capable of meeting the pollination demands of growers in the northeast in a more efficient manner than is achieved with current practices; and a computerized, user-friendly, Expert System model based on that analysis for use by beekeepers to assist them in maximizing the efficiency and productivity of their operations.

(4) The development of an educational/outreach program to:

(a) assist beekeepers in managing their colonies in a manner that maximizes their value as pollination units, and

(b) help growers become knowledgeable consumers of pollination services.