Many beekeepers have been forced to breed stronger bees due to the devastating effects of the Varroa mite in bee colonies.
Since the insect’s arrival to the U.S. in the 1980’s honey bee populations have been steadily dropping. Even if beekeeping has become a more modern practice, it is estimated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that over 50 percent of the country’s bee colonies have perished. That’s almost 3 million honey bee colonies that have disappeared, either from disease or due to human activity.
Fighting bee population decline through selective Breeding
This phenomenon was noted by the Northwestern Pennsylvania Beekeepers Association (NWPBA) as they held a meeting last Saturday. NWPBA’s president Charlie Vorisek stated that last winter, he had lost almost half of his bees. These numbers have become typical for him and other beekeepers.
It is all part of a concerning trend. The NWPBA has tried to educate bee farmers, so they know how to keep their colonies healthy. The ultimate goal is to increase the overall number of hives so that survival rates can increase. Apparently, the best way to do this is through genetic breeding.
When researchers put a unique variety of sticky board in the bee colonies to protect the bees against the mites, they noted that the captured insects were chewed. This means that bees were indeed trying to fight back against the intruder. Through selective breeding, this trait can be reproduced on the bees’ offspring, which will allow for a better defense against varroa mites. Vorisek has been raising bees that can survive the harsh conditions of winter and to fight back varroa mites.
— MyBeeLine (@MyBeeLineCo) June 16, 2016
Another association known as the Beekeepers of Indiana have also successfully bred more resilient queen bees. It was an effort by the Purdue University to join the fight against the loss of bee populations. They have also developed the mite-fighting gene through selection and breeding. The process started back on 2007, where the rate of loss of bees on the University’s colonies was about 40 percent. Now, thanks to the selective breeding, the rate stands at a likely 12 percent.
Beekeepers now bring their queen bees to Purdue’s laboratories, so they become inseminated with drones that carry the gene that leads them to fight varroa mites.
Mites, Colony Collapse Disorder, and climate change
Varroa mites need to feed on honeybees to survive. But humans need honey bees alive to efficiently farm crops. The Varroa mites attach themselves to their host and suck their blood until they die. The mites transmit disease all over the colony. Eventually, they proceed to lay eggs next to bee larvae, which serve as new hosts as soon as they hatch.
The simplest way to deal with these mites is through the use of pesticides, but they can also be harmful to the colony.
The main causes leading to the reduction of bee colonies are several, but they appear to be linked to each other. These are the presence of varroa mites, a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder, and the use of pesticides.
— Thermosolar Hive (@Thermosolarhive) June 16, 2016
Colony Collapse Disorder occurs when most of a colony’s worker bees disappear, and the queen is left alone. It is estimated that the added cases of Colony Collapse Disorder have led the U.S. to lose almost $200 billion in 2005 due to the disappearance of the pollination process for many crops. The exact causes behind the phenomenon are yet unknown. Varroa mites are often named as the main culprit, but it can also be due to colony-wide disease or a destruction of the bees’ habitat.
But researchers agree that the mite known as Varroa destructor is the main reason behind the reduction of the world’s honey bee colonies. The diseases transmitted by the mite have been directly linked to the Colony Collapse Disorder, although not every case included these parasites.
The pollen’s role on pesticides could determine bee’s future
Pollen that has come into contact with pesticides has been shown to make it, so bees are more easily affected by disease and parasites. Fungicides and pesticides are usually harmless for bees, but it seems that ingestion through pesticide-coated pollen plays a significant role in the bees’ overall health.
Lastly, the most controversial potential cause behind Colony Collapse Disorder is climate change. The U.S. has lost over half of its colonies since mid-century, and Europe has lost about a quarter. A link between colony collapse and climate change has been established. Researchers have proven that climate change has an effect on flower production, which in turn affects pollen recollection, the primary source of nutrition for bees.
As honey bees are responsible for the pollination of 8 out of every ten vegetables, many have decided to take on the hobby of beekeeping.
Beekeeper Les Hiltz stated, “If you get into beekeeping, you won’t get out. It grows on you. It gets in your blood.”
A recent spike of people that have taken beekeeping as a hobby has created a lot of interest for the media and the public. Mainly, because it can become a profitable activity and also because it helps combat the alarming bee disappearance rate, which affects nearly everyone who enjoys eating fruits and vegetables.
— AgriBeeHealth (@AgriBeeHealth) June 19, 2016
Source: Meadville Tribune