Hope for honey bees
The year 2017 offers a glimmer of hope for honey bees.
In 2016 they were put on the endangered species list for the first time in the US, and in the UK, disease, parasites and pesticides weakened their colonies.
On the Greek island of Crete, researchers are investigating how an ancient cure for chicken mites might offer a remedy for Varroa, one of the most prevalent pests afflicting honey bees.
Martha Kearney spoke to researcher Dimosthenis Issaakidis and hive owner Mihalis Tsigenis.
I don't hold much hope out for an article that, on it's home page, make such glaring errors. honey bees are not endangered in the USA or elsewhere. In the USA they recently put some species of solitary bumble bees, native only to Hawaii, on an endangered list. Varroa has no bearing at all on those bees.
Furthermore, this is just yet another chemical treatment which - if it is effective initially - the mites will rapidly adapt to. Most of the other treatments that have been created have been based on plant extracts initially, and the active ingredients have been extracted or synthesised.
And fundamentally, all treatments miss the major point which is that bees have the genetic tools needed to resist varroa on their own. For the species as a whole to develop resistance we need to stop treatments and allow natural selection to take its course. It is only in parts of the world where beekeepers can afford treatments that varroa continues to be a problem.
Michael Cox wrote:........ And fundamentally, all treatments miss the major point which is that bees have the genetic tools needed to resist varroa on their own. For the species as a whole to develop resistance we need to stop treatments and allow natural selection to take its course..
Michael Cox wrote:And fundamentally, all treatments miss the major point which is that bees have the genetic tools needed to resist varroa on their own. For the species as a whole to develop resistance we need to stop treatments and allow natural selection to take its course. It is only in parts of the world where beekeepers can afford treatments that varroa continues to be a problem.
That's not entirely accurate. "Live and let die" has several issues as a breeding program. First of all most european bees have poor innate varroa resistance that takes more breeding effort to solidify and dig out the necessary traits, while only africanized bees have the innate resistance that allowed them to adapt quickly. When you let colonies die you're effectively throwing away whatever beneficial traits they had, which might include disease resistant traits that just weren't strong enough on their own, productivity, gentleness, and potential resistance to future pests/diseases. Keep in mind that the cheapest way to resist varroa is simply to limit drone production and raise minimal brood, which is not particularly good if you want strong colonies and good honey production!
Also if you let colonies die out naturally you'll be spreading a heavy mite load onto other colonies (from forager emigration and robbing) and selecting for highly virulent mites that kill their hosts. You won't just be doing harm to your own bees, but also to other people's bees and feral colonies as well. This is considered bad practice and may potentially (and rightfully) get you into trouble. At the very least you need to test your bees and kill off dying hives early before they turn into rotting zombified plague-spreading corpses.
The dumb thing is, that it would only take 10 years for the commercial queen breeders to produce a varroa/nosema/tracheal mite resistant bee (ie 'treatment free') if they actually bothered to, and we've had varroa around for 30 years. The real problem is that commercial apiaries have spent the last 30 years addicted to chemical treatments rather than demanding that breeders produce resistant bees. Of course, once we've managed to breed mites that are resistant to all the available treatments that will likely change (and it won't be long!). Fun fact, if half the breeders in the US did this then it would exceed all of the government-sponsored varroa-resistance breeding programs in the entire world combined.
Moral of the story, if you want to go treatment-free then buy resistant queens. VSH queens are already available in carniolan, italian and russian varieties (although that's only one resistance trait out of the four or so that are known), and if you live near texas I've heard there's someone there who bred treatment-free bees starting in 1991 and hasn't had to treat since 1998.
In my community, there are a number of treatment free bee-keepers. They swap germplasm with each other. I hold them in the highest esteem.
Seems to me, like there is a tremendous incentive for the corporations to sell susceptible bees. It's the same old routine of "planned obsolescence", or "hybrids won't breed true". Just a way to keep people coming back year after year for fresh bees.
Survival of the fittest coupled with farmer directed selection is at the core of all of my breeding projects. I don't worry about throwing away genetic diversity within my crops, because I start with genetically diverse strains, and I can add new genetics whenever I feel like it. And with something like bees that mate on the wing, there are plenty of opportunities for ongoing out-crossing. It's easy enough to include Africanized traits in my breeding projects, plenty of those traits come back with bees that have traveled to the Almond orchards.
Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
In my community, there are a number of treatment free bee-keepers. They swap germplasm with each other. I hold them in the highest esteem.
Keep in mind that a single breeding program requires about 1000 hives to produce a single genetically diverse, stable variety of bees. That's only about enough to supply one US state with queens sustainably.
Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Seems to me, like there is a tremendous incentive for the corporations to sell susceptible bees. It's the same old routine of "planned obsolescence", or "hybrids won't breed true". Just a way to keep people coming back year after year for fresh bees.
No, I don't think that's it at all. There are really two major issues that prevent breeders from pursuing parasite resistance.
The first is that it's a royal pain in the butt. Screening for brood diseases is super easy, just pull a few frames of brood, shake the bees off and look for anything out of place. With a glance you can tell if a hive is sick and to what extent. With parasites every single screening procedure is a ridiculous pain.
For example varroa is the easiest, which involves taking a frame of brood and shaking the bees into a bucket, taking a scoop of bees (preferably not the ones that fly off immediately so you get nurse bees), dumping them into a cup of rubbing alcohol, swirling it for 30 seconds and counting all the mites that drop to the bottom of the cup.
Nosema is even worse, you have to vacuum up forager bees that are returning to the hive and dump them into alcohol, then squash out their guts an examine the contents under a microscope, which is about 20 individual bees per hive.
I have no idea how you even test for tracheal mites, but I can only assume it's even more of a pain than nosema.
The second major issue is that bee research (and breeding development) receives only 1/10 of the funding that other livestock get. That is, for every dollar that cow breeders get to shave more brain cells off of black angus or to create a new holstein that's even better at living in a cage, beekeepers only get 10 cents, in spite of how important bees are to the pollination of so many major crops. Most bee research is carried out based on donations, and major breeders have no hope of getting the funding they need to carry out the expensive and time consuming screening needed to breed parasite resistant bees.
Beekeepers don't even buy most of their queens or bees from breeders. Most of the time they just buy from other beekeepers, the more skilled of which can triple their stocks in a year if they so desire. Most of them have to split their stocks every year just to keep them from swarming off before the pollination season starts up. If beekeepers buy from breeders it's typically for special purposes. For example to requeen a bunch of hives and they want to bring in new genetics, or because they're buying special genetics like VSH, or maybe they want to jump start a bunch of new hives for an intensive round of pollination so they buy a bunch of bulk bees and queens and dump them out in front of hives (which can build up faster than nucs). For the price of a breeder queen they could probably buy a whole nuc or box of bees from the surplus of their peers.
Also production queens from breeders DO breed true, but they're mainly breeding for color (like it matters!), gentleness and early build up for migratory pollination (which btw is unsuitable for cold climates, although you can get russians for that and they're even parasite resistant).
Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Survival of the fittest coupled with farmer directed selection is at the core of all of my breeding projects. I don't worry about throwing away genetic diversity within my crops, because I start with genetically diverse strains, and I can add new genetics whenever I feel like it. And with something like bees that mate on the wing, there are plenty of opportunities for ongoing out-crossing. It's easy enough to include Africanized traits in my breeding projects, plenty of those traits come back with bees that have traveled to the Almond orchards.
That's neither here nor there. Interbreeding with other people's bees and ferals is pretty much inevitable for migratory beekeepers, but if they weren't treating they'd end up losing maybe 90% of their stocks and their genetic diversity along with them (not to mention flood feral populations and hobbyists with an unmanageable varroa infestation and other collapse-related conditions). Crops and bees also have very different situations when it comes to breeding and selection, for example there are very few breeding programs focusing on locally climate adapted bees, and it's much easier to take a shotgun approach for selecting crop varieties for local adaptation. With bees you need a strong feral population with a healthy relationship to local breeding programs to achieve that, not to mention the varieties of bees that are imported from their native regions tend to be extremely limited. Primarily only carniolans and italians are used, out of some 6 major varieties that are well adapted for warm climates (italian, north+south greeks, iberians, caucasians, egyptians) and 3 for cold climates (carniolans, germans, russians) and at least 3 for tropical climates (egyptians, saharans, africans), which could be directly or indirectly intermixed. Compare that to hundreds of varieties of tomatoes or melons available for breeding locally adapted stock (the loss of which generally wouldn't produce large scale negative side effects like dying bees do).
I hear similar recommendations coming out of the vegetable breeding corporations: "This isn't something that the home- breeder can aspire to, because the numbers required are too far out of reach for the amateur breeder to ever even consider attempting". "Leave it to the professionals." How's that working out? For vegetable growers? For beekeepers?
Screening for local-adaptation seems to me to be the same for bees as it is for vegetables... Grow them out. See what survives. When I grow vegetables, I'm not screening for resistance to virus XYZ, or insect JKL. I'm screening for the ability to procreate. Once that is taken care of, then I can screen for other characteristics like productivity. I don't have to have names for pests or diseases, or even be aware that they exist and are afflicting the crop. I figure that it's the same for bees. Those that survive will survive, those that don't will die. Again, requiring specialized knowledge seems like a way to discourage the amateur breeder from engaging in bee breeding.
Seems to me like the amateur beekeeper only needs to know that bees reproduce, and that offspring tend to resemble their parents and grandparents.
I'm pretty sure targeting one disease or pest at a time is always going to be a losing strategy whether it's done through breeding, chemicals, or husbandry. While you focus on that one arms race, nature will still be attacking on all the other fronts. In untreated populations, whatever the population size, the healthy individuals contribute more to the gene pool because they produce more offspring. This continues for every generation so that the newest generation is dominated by those best equipped to handle the ever changing conditions of real life.
Your comments simply do not agree with a) the experience of the thousands of beekeepers who are already doing this worldwide or b) the recent scientific studies that have been coming out from the likes of Thomas Seeley. Here in the UK the general bee population has a reasonable background resistance level, such that beekeepers who choose to give up treatments tend to have stable and productive apiaries (without excessive losses) within 3 to 5 years. Suggesting that this is impossible because the resistance traits are not present is directly refuted by those like me who are out there and already doing it.
Furthermore the implication in your posts is that it is only possible to develop resistance to disease through long and carefully managed breeding programmes. The reality is that these costly and intensive programmes, selecting for single traits such as VSH, produce results comparable or less good than those observed by beekeepers who simply stop treating altogether and breed from survivors. There are a number of factors behind this:
Extreme polyandry improves a honey bee colony’s ability to track dynamic foraging opportunities via greater activity of inspecting bees
Here is a list of some of the known mechanisms which contribute to bees developing tolerances to varroa - some have been observed in practice, others are hypothetical, and some others are observed in other Apis species which are affected by varroa:
Social Apoptosis - infested drone larvae sacrifice themselves
Social Apoptosis - workers carrying phoretic mites leave the hive and do not return.
Uncapping infested cells
Chewing/removal of infested larvae
smaller nest sizes
resistance to viruses - (viral superposition with DWV Type B)
varroa reproduction suppression
entombing varroa in the cells with larval shed skins
brood breaks during dearth
local adaptation to nectar flows/seasons (affects overall colony efficiency)
In any one hive multiple traits can be expressed, potentially as a result of breedings with multiple drone fathers. No human directed breeding programme can select for such a broad mix of gene combinations.
On top of this, natural selection on the mites themselves comes into play. When we treat hives we kill around 95% of the mites. These mites have a strong evolutionary incentive to breed rapidly and to spread from colony to colony. When hives are not treated, and mites have an evolutionary incentive to NOT crash their host colony, there is pressure for mites to become less virulent (virulent strains of mites die out with their host colonies).
References that you might find interesting:
Locke, B. (2016). Natural Varroa mite-surviving Apis mellifera honeybee populations. Apidologie, 47, 467–482. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13592-015-0412-8
Neumann, P., & Blacquière, T. (2016). The Darwin cure for apiculture? Natural selection and managed honey bee health. Evolutionary Applications. https://doi.org/10.1111/eva.12448
Seeley, T. D. (2007). Honey bees of the Arnot Forest: a population of feral colonies persisting with Varroa destructor in the northeastern United States. Apidologie, 38(1), 19–29. https://doi.org/10.1051/apido:2006055
Villa, J. D., Danka, R. G., & Harris, J. W. (2016). Selecting honeybees for worker brood that reduces the reproduction of Varroa destructor. Apidologie, 47(6), 771–778. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13592-016-0433-y
Yanping Chen, ଝ, Evans, J., & Feldlaufer, M. (2006). Horizontal and vertical transmission of viruses in the honey bee, Apis mellifera. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, 92, 152–159. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jip.2006.03.010
BREEDING MITE-BITING BEES TO CONTROL VARROA. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.beeculture.com/breeding�mite�biting�bees�to�control�varroa/
Arechavaleta-Velasco, M. E., & Guzm�n-Novoa, E. (2001). Relative effect of four characteristics that restrain the population growth of the mite Varroa destructor in honey bee ( Apis mellifera ) colonies. Apidologie, 32(2), 157–174. https://doi.org/10.1051/apido:2001121
Le Conte, Y., de Vaublanc, G., Crauser, D., Jeanne, F., Rousselle, J.-C., & Bécard, J.-M. (2007). Honey bee colonies that have survived Varroa destructor . Apidologie, 38(6), 566–572. https://doi.org/10.1051/apido:2007040
Loftus, J. C., Smith, M. L., Seeley, T. D., Meconcelli, S., Pieraccini, G., Pradella, D., … Ellis, J. (2016). How Honey Bee Colonies Survive in the Wild: Testing the Importance of Small Nests and Frequent Swarming. PLOS ONE, 11(3), e0150362. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150362
Mattila, H. R., Reeve, H. K., & Smith, M. L. (2012). Promiscuous Honey Bee Queens Increase Colony Productivity by Suppressing Worker Selfishness. Current Biology (Vol. 22). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2012.08.021
Mattila, H., & Seeley, T. (2014). Extreme polyandry improves a honey bee colony’s ability to track dynamic foraging opportunities via greater activity of inspecting bees, 45(3), 347–363. Retrieved from https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01234731
Page, P., Lin, Z., Buawangpong, N., Zheng, H., Hu, F., Neumann, P., … Dietemann, V. (2016). Social apoptosis in honey bee superorganisms. Scientific Reports, 6(1), 27210. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep27210
Mordecai, G. J., Brettell, L. E., Martin, S. J., Dixon, D., Jones, I. M., & Schroeder, D. C. (2015). Superinfection exclusion and the long-term survival of honey bees in Varroa-infested colonies. The ISME Journal, 10(10), 1182–1191. https://doi.org/10.1038/ismej.2015.186
If you are a parasite that kills your host then you die . This is sub optimal all round there fore it is to the advantage of the Veroa to come to a balance with the host . Since there are multiple generations of Veroa each year and usually one of bees it does not seem to me an unreasonable assumption that the verroa is doing most of the evolving .
To think that us humans and our manipulations are the only game in town and ignore other factors seems to me folly. nature and evolution work in many ways not just as we would wish .
I was in the apiary to install 8 packages of bees that my brother sent from his breeding program. They were beautiful, each containing about 4 to 5 pounds of bees.
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