The honey bee colony is comprised of up to 60,000 worker bees, and one queen bee who is the mother of them all. Only the queen can lay fertilized eggs to keep this 'superorganism' growing. If she is compromised, or the drones she mates with are compromised, the colony will dwindle and fail to thrive at best, and at worst it will fail. Increasing concerns with queen quality raise questions about where we can optimize quality and guard against compromising queens and drones.
Current Queen Quality Research
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Sperm Viability, Queens, and Colony Productivity Principal Investigator: Marta Guarna, Agri-Food Canada, 2016
Queen quality is recognized as an important factor affecting honey bee colony performance and survival. In the 2015 Statement on Honey Bee Wintering Losses in Canada published by the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists, beekeepers cited 'poor queens' as a main cause of winter colony losses. Thus, understanding why queens are failing is a priority. There are several factors that can affect queen health and performance including poor mating, disease load, and pesticide exposure. However, the condition of local and imported queens from selected and unselected stocks in Canada is not well documented. In addition, recent data from our collaborator, Jeff Pettis, indicated that the viability of the sperm that queens carry in their bodies can be linked to poor colony performance. It is not clear, however, to what extent decreases in sperm viability affect queen performance and longevity as well as colony productivity and survival. This project aims to address this important question as well as to assess the health status of queens used in Canadian operations. The results may help guide queen producers and beekeepers on queen handling and management decisions that may have a profound effect on their operations, reducing the need for frequent queen replacement and improving the productivity and survival of their colonies
Synergistic Effects of In-Hive Miticides and Agro-Chemicals on Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Queen Survival, Colony Growth and Honey Production Principal Investigator: Juliana Rangel, Texas A&M University, 2016
The purpose of this study is to conduct a yearlong assessment of newly established colonies reared in pesticide-free beeswax foundation compared to those initiated in pesticide-laden beeswax foundation. The pesticides which will be tested are fluvalinate, coumaphos, amitraz, chlorothalonil and chlorpyrifos, the top six agro-chemicals most commonly found in beeswax from commercial beekeeping operations. Objective 1: To examine the initial patterns of brood production in new colonies established in hives with frames that have wax foundation contaminated with field-relevant concentrations and combinations of the pesticides in Table 1, compared to pesticide-free wax foundation. Objective 2: To evaluate patterns of colony growth and honey production in the pesticide-laden colonies in Objective 1 over time, to see if they will exhibit slower colony growth and lower food storage compared to colonies initiated in frames with pesticide-free foundation frames. Objective 3: Assess the rates of queen supersedure and overwintering survival of colonies new colonies established in hives with frames that have wax foundation contaminated with field relevant concentrations and combinations of pesticides, compared to those established in frames with pesticide-free wax foundation.
Queen Quality Principal Investigator: Elina Nino, University of California, Davis, 2016
Queen failure is ranked high among beekeepers’ perceived causes of colony loss. Historically, queens have been living 2-3 years or even longer. Presently, beekeepers are reporting that queens are surviving 1-2 years and they often have to re-queen their colonies once or even twice per year. Causes of queen failure are still unknown but pesticides, miticides and temperature extremes are being investigated. However, queen mating and reproductive quality are greatly dependent on drone seminal fluid components transferred during mating or insemination. Therefore, poor queen quality is very likely influenced by poor semen quality in drones exposed to various stressors, the most pronounced one being varroa mite infestation. Varroa preferentially feed and reproduce on drone pupae possibly leading to reduction in semen quality. Varroa is known to reduce total protein in drone hemolymph and can have negative consequences on drone weight, mating flight attempts, sperm numbers and viability. Our preliminary data suggest that seminal fluid proteins (SFPs) not associated with sperm play a crucial role in triggering and maintaining post mating changes in queens. In this study, we propose to compare quality and performance of queens inseminated with semen from drones with and without Varroa infestation. Seminal fluid proteome of drones with and without Varroa infestation will be characterized. Our results will inform colony management practices with emphasis on improving queen quality and will aid in improving honey bee breeding program practices.
Comparison of US Honey Bee Genetic Lines for Queen Production and Pollination Efficiency Under Field Conditions Principal Investigator: Steve sheppard, Washington State University
There is evidence that honey bee subspecies that have evolved in mountainous/temperate regions fly at lower temperatures than subspecies originating from warmer regions. A majority of the US commercial breeding stock is derived from Apis mellifera ligustica, a subspecies native to the Italian peninsula. The subspecies evolved in a generally warm “Mediterranean” climate. Previous importations of a number of other subspecies are reported in the literature, but most fell out of favor with US beekeepers or were lost due to founder effects. There remains a small percentage of queens in the US sold as “carniolian queens” originally derived from A. m. carnica, a subspecies endemic to the Alps Mountains. With genetic material imported by WSU over the past 8 years, coupled with the ability to backcross progeny using cryopreserved semen, we have been able to largely reconstruct several subspecies here in the US. Two of these, A. m. caucasica and A. m. carnica, have been made available recently to commercial queen producers and are beginning to be more widely distributed to beekeeper customers. As a result, we now have an opportunity to directly compare among subspecies for traits such as mating flight success and foraging behavior during inclement temperatures. Coincident with this new opportunity to directly compare subspecies and unique US breeding lines we now have the capacity to delineate differences that could have significant impacts on crops that depend on honey bees as the main source of pollination. There are a number of crops in the US that can suffer reduced yields due to poor pollination that results from decreased bee flight time during cold or inclement weather through bloom. This project will, for the first time, provide empirical data to test the long-held hypothesis that honey bee subspecies from mountainous regions fly/pollinate at lower temperatures than subspecies from warm/arid climates. At the other end of the spectrum there are high value seed crops that bloom during the heat of the summer that can also show reduced yields caused by a lack of pollination, because at a certain temperature honey bees divert the foraging force from pollen collection to water collection when temperatures are too hot. It would be logical to hypothesize that honey bees adapted for hot/arid climates might be better pollinators in those conditions than bees derived from mountainous areas. A better understanding of the characteristics of the available breeding stock in the US is essential as we face unknown climatic shifts that have major impacts in our agricultural system. Findings from research described above have the potential to change pollination strategies and demands for specific honey bee “types”. It might be, that for increased pollination security/insurance there is value in stocking orchards/fields with a mix of distinct honey bee genotypes to improve crop yields in years of abnormal weather. Specific Objectives: 1.Compare 2 Old World subspecies and 3 commercial lines for mating success in early season (temperate/inclement weather) queen production. 2.Compare 2 Old World subspecies and 3 commercial lines for pollination efficiency under various weather conditions (cold weather fruit and nut pollination and hot weather seed crop pollination) 3.Compare 2 Old World subspecies and 3 commercial lines for overwintering survival, productivity/vigor and Varroa tolerance.
Protecting Queens for Improved Colony Productivity Principal Investigator: Jeffery S. Pettis, University of Bern, 2017
Queen quality and availability are major concerns of beekeepers today. Problems arising from queen rearing, mating, shipping, or exposure to pathogens and pesticides may result in lower queen health. One poorly studied factor that can affect queen’s performance and longevity is the viability of the sperm in the queen’s spermatheca. In an ongoing project supported by PAm, we are assessing the effect of exposing queens to temperatures encountered during shipment, and the effect of temperature-induced low sperm viability on queen and colony performance and productivity. Results to date show that queens can be exposed to temperature extremes during shipment and this in turn can reduce the viability of the sperm they stored in the spermatheca. Further, a colony level field experiment (Guarna) showed that queens exposed to high and low temperature demonstrate lower performance and their colonies are less productive both in terms of bee population and honey productivity. Finally, recent reports have shown that chemical exposure can have an effect on queen sperm viability and affect queen performance. We hereby propose to develop and evaluate strategies to reduce exposing queens to temperature extremes and to chemicals while increasing our understanding of the effect of these risk factors on queen health and colony productivity. Our findings will guide recommendations to queen producers, improve conditions for queen shipments and provide new management options for beekeepers prior to, and after, queen introduction in their colonies. The main aim of our proposal is to increase queen health and performance by improving shipping conditions and education of shippers and beekeepers about the sensitivity of live queen shipments to temperature extremes. We propose to define strategies to: a) Improve queen shipment and management conditions to reduce exposure to temperature extremes. b) Initiate an employee education program within USPS and UPS to improve the handling of live queen bee shipments. Currently, queens are commonly shipped long distance, particularly to northern US and to Canada, where local queens are generally not available early enough in the year to respond to the spring demand for queens. Our previous research has demonstrated that both hot and cold temperature extremes can be experienced by queens during shipping. Even cold temperatures in August which can only be explained by temperatures in the cargo hold of planes. Thus, an employee education program of the safe handling of live queens by the two shippers, USPS and UPS could go a long way to solving this problem. Additional education programs for beekeepers and even queen breeders may be possible at the beginning and end of the shipping process.
Completed Queen Quality Research
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Development of a High-Throughput Method for Quantifying Sperm Viability in Honey Bee Queens Principal Investigator: Dave Tarpy, North Carolina State University, 2013
Beekeepers who want to have queen quality measured can do so through the NCSU Queen Clinic service. Through the request of David Tarpy, NCSU, PAm funded a Nexcelom Vision system machine for high-throughput process of sperm samples. It is able to rapidly process samples at a rate of approximately 5 minutes per queen or drone, previously taking upwards of 2 hours per bee. This technology makes it possible expedite much needed research and provide these services to beekeepers, especially queen producers. Click Here for related publications.