Salt Lake City, Utah-August 25th 2021.
Managed honey bees in North America are under increasing pressure to meet pollination demands for our food supply. At the same time, annual colony losses are high- 45.5% in the US in 2020, and the natural forage which gives bees healthy nutrition and a honey crop for producers is decreasing. Colony losses are often attributed to pathogens, parasites, pesticides, hive management (queen mating, genetics, maintenance), climate, and available nutrition. United States honey production in 2020 from producers with five or more colonies totaled 148 million pounds, down 6% from 2019. Sustainable beekeeping is dependent on maximizing outputs (colony health, colony numbers, pollination contracts, honey production, profitability) while minimizing the inputs (time, money, personnel, treatments). A sustainable beekeeping industry contributes to a more sustainable agricultural landscape through a stable supply of bees for crop pollination. Therefore, PAm is requesting research proposals that focus on enhancing the health, survival and productivity of honey bee colonies, which provide practical and tangible solutions to the beekeeping industry.
Beekeeping is a big industry and interest in Canada. In 2019, Canada produced 80.4 million pounds of honey, and in 2017 pollination services in Canada were estimated to contribute between 4.0 and 5.5 billion dollars to the nation’s economy.1 Canada is a major producer of canola and blueberries, two crops that benefit greatly from pollination services. Unfortunately, beekeepers in Canada face similar challenges to those in the U.S. making research a necessity for improving honey bee health, creating and optimizing tools for beekeepers. In 2020, the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA) reported 30.2% colony losses over winter, nationally, with some provinces losing as many as 40.7% of their colonies.2
Project Apis m. Funds Dr. Judy Wu-Smart to investigate the impacts of pesticide-treated seed recycling in Nebraska.
Beekeepers have been re-locating their apiaries from Nebraska for years. Well before the public became aware of an ethanol plant producing pesticide-laden by-products, there had already been a concerning trend of beekeepers leaving Nebraska.
Dr. Marion Ellis, head of the Bee Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) saw the pattern begin during his tenure. Beekeepers were migrating out of the state as more pastureland in the area was planted with corn, and especially when that corn was treated with organophosphate insecticides to control corn rootworm. Organophosphate insecticides are persistent in the environment and are highly toxic to bees, but beekeepers were reluctant to complain to friends and family who farmed the land. As Ellis said, “It became really hard to keep bees in the Corn Belt.”
More recently, large-scale career beekeepers with thousands of colonies have continued that exodus from Nebraska because they cannot afford the high bee losses year after year.1 A new publication representing a major collaboration across state and federal organizations puts some concerning data behind the trends. It highlights that bees in Nebraska are dealing with a disproportionately high number of pesticides detected at higher levels than most other states and the neonicotinoids clothianidin and thiamethoxam contributed significantly to the hazard quotient (the risk) posed to bees in Nebraska.2
Since beginning in 2006, Project Apis m. has endeavored to fund bee research that will improve honey bee health. Translating the research into improvements on a large scale means not just funding the work, but providing beekeepers with the knowledge and tools quickly so they can benefit from the research. Over time, with the help of an engaged research community, PAm has created a funding process and pipeline to drive innovation and solutions for years to come.
In 2014, a new pollinator habitat collaboration was initiated by a group of stakeholders that saw land use changes threatening pollinator health in the upper mid-west region. Acres of row crops were rapidly rising, conservation land was being lost, and with the expansion of row crops, agricultural chemical use was also expanding. From the initial success of that collaboration, The Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund (BBHF) was formed.
While beekeepers and environmentalists have been aware of land use changes impacting bee health for a long time, these changes have intensified over the past few decades – and at the same time, honey bee and native bee health issues have come to the forefront of public awareness.
The above images represent how land use changes and increased agricultural chemicals can sometimes correlate. Pesticides are a complex issue. You can read more about pesticides and bee health here. Read the publication “Land-use change reduces habitat suitability for supporting managed honey bee colonies in the Northern Great Plains” here, and visit the USGS Pesticide National Synthesis Project’s interactive pesticide maps here.
The California State Beekeepers’ Association (CSBA) is seeking proposals for research conducted in the area of honey bee health and management. Proposals should be designed to cover a single year of highly focused research devoted to finding practical solutions to beekeeping problems.
Please Click Here to view the Press Release and Application Guidelines
The Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) and Project Apis m. (PAm) have a long history of partnership. Since 2012 PAm has deeply supported the BIP Tech Transfer Teams (TTTs), who are the “boots on the ground” to survey honey bee health, and often acting as liaisons between research, and beekeepers. Their unique position not only allows them to share research developments and management practices with commercial beekeepers, but they also understand the most current beekeeping needs and trends and can help inform researchers about what is going on in the beekeeping industry that needs to be addressed.
Commercial beekeepers who work with the Tech Transfer Teams on average lose 30% fewer colonies each year than beekeepers who do not. That is significant! Quite a few participating beekeepers have also reported saving money by working with TTTs - some very major losses have been avoided, and many beekeepers report overall improved condition of their bees as well.
Hawaii is a chain of many islands, and of the seven inhabited by people and bees, only two have Varroa mites. I know, in beekeeper minds, that quickly conjures an image of paradise and perfectly healthy booming colonies with no Varroa! Having worked with bees on all those islands since 2010, I can report with confidence that the bees on these mite-free islands fall far short of this fantasy. Although there are no Varroa, these bees are a great example of how the many years of breeding and selection have provided us with the important traits beekeepers rely on, like gentle temperament, large populations and brood nests, reduced swarm tendencies, large honey stores and winter survival. Although they were abundant and successful in Hawaii’s conditions, the bees throughout the Hawaiian Islands were not, on average, large, gentle, productive colonies. They were mostly small, mean colonies of A. mellifera mellifera, brought by ship in 1850’s, and then naturalized in the jungle without beekeeper selection or improvement. The first time I met with a beekeeper as the Hawaii state apiarist, a bee met me over 50 yards from the undisturbed colony and immediately stung me in the face! This was a hobbyist, whose colonies were captured from the jungle. He likely didn’t know any different, but his bees had traits in stark contrast to the selected stocks I was used to throughout the USA and Canada. To be fair, they were also very different than the bees kept by Hawaii’s queen producers, which were painstakingly selected and improved by breeders such as Gus Rouse at Kona Queen. (See old ABJ article).
Dr. Kaira Wagoner is a post-doctoral fellow in the Social Insect Lab at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. In 2013, Kaira was one of the first PAm/Costco Scholarship award recipients. In alignment with PAm’s values, Kaira is dedicated to developing practical and sustainable solutions to honey bee health threats.
Kaira has been working towards a better understanding of the mechanisms behind hygienic behavior in honey bees. Hygienic behavior is a trait that all honey bee colonies possess to some degree. It involves the ability of nurse bees in a colony to sense a health problem in capped brood cells and remove the compromised brood, effectively slowing the spread of pathogens and parasites in the colony. This behavioral trait can be an advantage to the overall health and survival of the colony.
Cameron Jack Grew up watching his grandfather work 150 hives in southern Nevada. This was his gateway-bee experience. Learning and watching – being taught about honey bees. Today, Cameron is a researcher and lecturer at the University of Florida, Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Cameron received a one-year Costco/PAm fellowship award in 2016 to conduct research at the University of Florida where he is completing his graduate work. The subject of his research: Varroa. More specifically, his focus has been on breeding Varroa in vitro in the laboratory.