In the fall of 2021, Project Apis m. (PAm) received over thirty proposals in response our sixth annual request for proposals on behalf of the National Honey Board. Citing decreased honey production, high annual colony losses, and ongoing honey bee health issues, the call was for research that would “provide practical and tangible solutions to the beekeeping industry.” PAm’s Scientific Advisors reviewed these projects and the Board of Directors used their input to select projects that could produce information or tools that are useful for beekeepers and the bee industry.
We are excited to announce eight new projects! Six projects are recipients of National Honey Board funding, and two additional projects will be funded with the support of Costco US, and beekeeper and bee club contributions to PAm. The new projects funded by the National Honey Board are:
Dr. Benjamin Tracy, Virginia Tech, awarded $3,632.00 for “Bee-Friendly Beef: Improvement of Forage Availability For Bees Through The Integration Of Native Wildflowers In Southeastern Grazing Systems.” This project, which is a collaboration across Virginia Tech, the University of Tennessee, and the Smithsonian’s Virginia Working Landscapes, will work over multiple years to integrate wildflowers into pasture systems across the Southeastern US. Increased floral abundance and forage diversity support pollinator health and productivity including honey production. This project may provide a model for increasing forage on existing pasturelands, managing land intentionally to offer dual benefits- to cattle and bees.
Dr. Reed Johnson, Ohio State University, awarded $36,250.00 for “Understanding Risks and Potential Benefits of Spray Adjuvants for Honey Bees.” Adjuvants are compounds added to pesticides which can improve the efficacy of pesticides by helping them stick to, or spread on, the substrate. Although they are often included with the product, or added to the mix, they are not regulated as pesticides, so there is not much known about their toxicity to bees. This project will increase what is known about common adjuvant toxicity to bees, and explore if a non-toxic adjuvant can boost efficacy of varroa control compounds.
Dr. Nathalie Steinhauer, the Bee Informed Partnership, awarded $50,263.00 for “Enhancing Selection and Breeding for Hygienic Behavior and Mite Resistance in Commercial Queen Breeding Operations.” BIP’s unique model of bringing technical services to beekeeping operations has developed over many years, and helping queen producers is a way to reach many operations with improvements. Testing virus levels, and selecting hygienic traits over time have been successful BIP programs. Alongside Dr. Kaira Wagoner (University of North Carolina Greensboro), this project will develop more accessible methods for hygienic testing that do not require liquid nitrogen, and more specific testing to target Varroa resistance behaviors. Helping queen producers develop and keep stocks of bees that are resistant to Varroa will bolster a long-term, sustainable effort to combat the mite.
Dr. Arian Avalos, USDA-ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Unit in Baton Rouge, LA, awarded $48,215 for “Viral Diversity in Mite Resistant Honey Bees and It’s Impact on Colony Health.” Varroa confers harmful viruses from bee to bee and colony to colony. It is often said that ‘its the viruses that kill bees, not the mites’, and more recent studies show many variants of mite-vectored viruses are a factor. This project will analyze samples from a year-long study in commercial beekeeping operations in 5 states, to see regional and seasonal patterns of viruses and variants. The samples are all associated with mite samples, and known VSH or nonresistant queens, which will indicate if using Varroa resistant bee stock is also an effective control method for viral disease. Results could lead to recommendations that more specifically target viral spread in addition to Varroa.
Dr. James Nieh, University of California, San Diego, awarded $37,576.00 for “Honey bee colony-level testing of the benefits of a balanced omega-3 fatty acid diet for reducing the harms of thiamethoxam and its common adjuvants” Beekeepers often feed their bees, and there is much study to determine what components optimize these supplements for bee health. This project is identifying the potential protective effects that diet enriched with omega-3 fatty acids can have, by mitigating the effects of pesticide exposure. Results indicate that a nutritional supplement with omega-3 fatty acids increases bee survival and cognitive resistance (improving learning and memory) following pesticide exposure to this common neonicitinoid.
Dr. Jonathan Snow, Barnard College, awarded $53, 214.00 for “Further Development of Pharmacologic Proteasome Inhibition as a Therapeutic Strategy for N. ceranae Infection in Honey Bees.” Beekeepers rely on the anti-microbial medication fumagillin to protect bees against Nosema disease, a fungal pathogen commonly found in colonies that can cause dysentery and population decline. Treatments for Nosema are few, not always available, and there is mixed information about if/when Nosema treatments are worthwhile for beekeepers. Dr. Snow is building on previously PAm-funded work that identified compounds that combat Nosema in a more targeted way, by harming energy production pathways specific to Nosema cells. Targeted treatments could reduce harms to the bees themselves, and would also provide beekeepers with an additional treatment option.
In addition to National Honey Board funding, Project Apis m. approved funding for two additional projects, using funds from Costco US, and beekeeper and bee club support.
Dr. Katie Lee, University of Minnesota, awarded $57,631.00 from Costco US for “Economics of Queen Replacement in a Commercial Beekeeping Organization.” It is hard to pinch a productive queen, no matter how old she is—but, does it pay to requeen? Dr. Lee’s project, working in conjunction with commercial beekeeper and PAm Board chair, Zac Browning, follows new and old queens over time, to answer this question. The study will result in useful information for beekeepers to make the costly decisions about replacing queens in their apiary by following re-queened and non-re-queened colonies, measuring the outcomes of colony health and productivity, and assigning values to each strategy.
Dr. Samuel Ramsey, Ramsey Research Foundation, awarded $49,834.00 from Project Apis m. for “Evaluation of Novel Chemical and Non-chemical Remediation Methods for Varroa destructor and Tropilaelaps mercedesae Management.” Tropilaelaps mites are an emerging honey bee pest that is not yet found in the U.S. but has the potential to cause damage on a scale similar to Varroa, if (or when) it does arrive. Since 2009, the United States has monitored apiaries across the country for Tropilaelaps via the National Honeybee disease survey, but few research projects are gathering pre-emptive information. As the mite's range expands, Dr. Ramsey’s research takes a proactive approach by traveling to impacted areas in Asia, assessing control methods, and gaining first-hand insight into this pest. This research can help the U.S. prepare to rapidly respond, should another invasive parasite be detected.
We are excited to announce all of this new research and look forward to keeping beekeepers up to date with articles, resources, webinars and other events as projects progress. It is alongside an engaged and passionate beekeeping community that we can make the most of what we learn from this research. We thank our partners, and beekeepers for their ongoing support to helps fund this work!
Article written by: Grace Kunkel, Communications Manager, Project Apis m. and Danielle Downey, Executive Director, Project Apis m.