Comparative influences of hive architecture in Apis mellifera fitness.
Sustainable and ethical farming practices are being developed everyday as more and more people realize that sustainable and chemical free agricultural methods are better for our food supply, our livestock, and our ecosystems. While all aspects of honeybee biology, traits, gene pools, environment, and even management have and/or are being exhaustively studied, little research has been conducted on hive design as it relates to Apis mellifera fitness.
Two hive types are being compared, the Langstroth hive, and the Keyna Top Bar hive. By using three simple measures, using colony weight, along with internal temperature and humidity data, and observable pest loads of Apis mellifera colonies, fitness can be determined. Thirty-two hives were installed in four separate locations Amherst, Massachusetts, USA. Each apiary location had four top bar boxes and four Langstroth boxes. Within each box, a three pound package of Apis mellifera (honeybees) were installed. Temperature humidity data loggers were placed inside the hives in the top right corner (southeast orientation) and irregular hive weights were collected. Any observable changes to hives or bees or nest was recorded.
The goal of this research was to determine if hive construction and materials within the hive can impact honeybee fitness. If conclusions can be drawn, researchers hope that hive designers will reevaluate hive architecture with the use of new building technology, to develop the ideal hive environment to combat recent losses in honeybee agriculture.
The impacts of this project have yet to be determined at the statistical level, but based on the high losses, and loss of one data logger data (lithium battery failure) installed in one of the two surviving hives, early temperature/humidity/and weight data readings will be used to determine energy production in hives over summer and death date of hives.
We lost several contributors due to several time and permission conflicts, change of jobs and sadly death. But most apiary locations were replaced before the project started. (Many thanks to Amherst College and the Book and Plow Farm) We lost one location all together due to lack of cooperation of the farmer to keep the fence on and provide a wind barrier. That group of hives were taken out of the project in the first two weeks and donated to another local farmer, who is now a bee enthusiast as well.
We did gain several other new enthusiastic beekeepers and generated student interest at Amherst College, Hampshire College, and at the University of Massachusetts.
Our final project report is in progress as of this writing and will give a much more in-depth discussion of the project, its successes, failure and possible conclusions.
Going into the winter it was evident that most of the hives were not going to overwinter, and spring would provide confirmation to this fact. When the temperatures warmed up, indeed we only had two surviving top bar hives, one at Amherst College, and the other at Small Ones Farm.
Data loggers were retrieved from the rest of the hives and raw data was extracted and transferred to computer. Surviving colonies were examined, and given to participants. Hive bodies were donated to participants. Hourly weather data was retrieved from the Amherst region, and samples of wax and bees were saved. Hives were cleaned out and donated to the host apiaries.
The data loggers data was extracted and imported into statistical programs and combined with local weather and weight data and are currently being analyzed for our final report to follow shorty.
There were more setbacks than accomplishments this year with the most prominent being the high colony losses, then equipment and computer failure, and death of a dear friend and USDA bee inspector, who was our bee expert. The most impactful loss to the project was the realization that we knew the hives were failing by the end of the summer, and we would have to regroup on what data could be combined and analyzed to reach some conclusions on which hive type performed better.
The fact that two top bar hives survived was not statically significant enough to draw conclusions from that fact alone. But upon inspection of the dead colonies, one can look at the number of combs drawn to see visually which hives had more activity. Indeed more comb was drawn with the top bar and more honey was found in these hives.
Our University of Massachusetts location had the most drawn comb in the Langstroth hives. but this location also had several robber bees and therefore had little honey in the combs. This could have been due to other species (yellow jackets most notably) present and nearby hives set up near our location. This will be discussed in the final report.
The supplier of the bees was contacted about survival rates among all his customers and only two positive responses were noted out of thirty-two or so email replies. Approximately eighty-five customers were queried. One non-project hive that survived was located in Connecticut and the second non-project hive was heated overwinter; both were Langstroth hives.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
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University of Massachusetts
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ernald Hall 204G
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Professor of Microbiology
University of Massachusetts
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