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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Breeding, Genetics, Stock Improvement and Management of Russian Honey Bees for Mite and Small Hive Beetle Control and Pollination

Location: Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology Research

2011 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
The long-term objective of this project is to develop the economic value of Russian honey bees (RHB) through genetic improvements and devise innovative management strategies to increase the stock’s general and pollination productivity. Over the next five years, we will focus on multiple interrelated projects with the following objectives: Objective 1: Develop procedures for identification of RHB as a stock certification tool, determine the genetic makeup of feral bees, and identify genes contributing to mite resistance and survivability. Objective 2: Develop management techniques (e.g., determine economic thresholds for mite treatment, develop cultural techniques for small hive beetle (SHB) management in standard and nucleus colonies, and determine winter management and spring build-up strategies) to build RHB populations for crop pollination (e.g., for almond). Objective 3: Determine if there are genetic components of RHB response to emerging problems (such as colony collapse disorder or CCD) once syndromes and causes are identified. Objective 4: Use traditional breeding techniques to develop RHB with improved economic traits. Objective 5: Develop procedures for routine identification of sex alleles and determine queen relationships in multiple queen colonies.


1b.Approach (from AD-416)
Honey bees play a vital role in the pollination of agricultural crops valued at $14.6B annually. Demands for commercial pollination are steadily growing. However, meeting these demands is increasingly difficult due to serious biological problems. Varroa destructor, Acarapis woodi, Aethina tumida [small hive beetle (SHB)], the emerging problems of colony collapse disorder (CCD) and high winter loss of pollination colonies all are plaguing the beekeeping industry. Perhaps Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) and Nosema ceranae, both recently discovered in the United States will join this list of serious problems.

The Russian honey bees (RHB), developed by this unit, are resistant to varroa and tracheal mites, harbor fewer SHB, are excellent honey producers and overwinter well. This research is focused on further improving RHB to increase the stock’s usefulness, especially for early season pollination via stock selection and the development of management procedures. Increasing the commercial acceptability of this mite-resistant stock may mitigate colony losses since commercial beekeepers who use RHB stock for almond pollination report only modest winter loss of colonies. Relevance to Action Plan: Marker assisted selection is a tool being developed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This work will be accelerated through additional funding for Russian bees. The problem to be addressed is relevant to the NP 305 Action Plan, Component 2 Bees and Pollination (Honey Bees) Problem Problem Statement 2A.3 Developing and Using New Research Tools: Genomics, Genetics, Physiology, Germplasm Preservation, and Cell Culture.


3.Progress Report
Research and technology transfer related to breeding Russian honey bees has resulted in the complete transfer of all Russian honey bee lines to industry where further selection is underway. Using microsatellite and Single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) markers, a combination of marker frequencies was determined to identify Russian honey bees for stock selection programs. This same suite of markers has been used on commercially available production queens from Russian queen breeders. The production queens are genetically Russian. Likewise, feral swarms in an area where Russian apiaries have been kept for several years show that a large proportion of their parentage is Russian. Although Russian honey bee colonies tend to carry maturing queen cells much of the time, their workers have only a few poorly developed ovaries, which is a condition typical of northern European honey bees.

Management research on Russian honey bees has determined that Russian colonies will grow larger in 8-frame hives that are fed a continual supply of a patty that is made of protein supplement and natural pollen along with a source of sugar syrup. Longevity of worker bees from individual colonies produced in the autumn is correlated to the survival of workers in winter clusters. However, this correlation was not found with worker bees caged from the colonies in the spring.

Varroa mites that are released from cells they are infecting because of honey bee hygienic behavior are in a state of asynchronous development with other potential honey bee brood at the time of release. This asynchrony causes the mites to be infertile should they re-invade the brood. Auto- and allo-grooming against varroa mites results in many mites falling to the bottom of the hive that do not have apparent physical damage. Hence, assessments of grooming behavior must be refined to accommodate this observation. An improved method for marking varroa mites for capture/recapture studies was developed.

Small hive beetle (SHB) studies indicate that white external SHB traps placed at the height of the hive entrances collect the most beetles. Of several lures for SHB traps tested, the yeast dough enriched with slow release ethanol proved to be the best. A method of thoracic notching was developed to mark SHB for capture/recapture studies.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) research has shown that Russian and Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) varroa mite resistant colonies survived better than untreated Italian colonies in the first year of a mid-western to California pollination trial. Overall, the mite resistant stocks were better pollinators than the control stock. Molecular genetic methods have been developed to detect and quantify Nosema ceranae infections. Patrilines of Russian honey bee colonies have variance in response to Nosema (N.) ceranae although Italian colonies do not. This indicates that the potential for breeding bees that have improved resistance to N. ceranae is greater for Russian honey bees. Feeding pollen or protein substitute to honey bee colonies through the winter increases the levels of infection of colonies by N. ceranae.


4.Accomplishments
1. Feeding pollen in winter produces larger colonies for almond pollination. Having large colonies in February for almond pollination is a difficult challenge for beekeepers since colonies naturally tend to be smaller in winter. ARS scientists at Baton Rouge, LA, have found that continual feeding of protein and sugar syrup and feeding protein enriched with pollen in mid-winter produces colonies that far exceed the sizes necessary for almond pollination. This effect is enhanced if beekeepers use eight-frame equipment. Although it is widely known that feeding protein helps build large colonies, the advantages of enhancing the protein with pollen and providing continual food through the winter are novel. These feeding techniques are useful for all beekeepers that pollinate almonds and those that require large colonies early in the spring for the production and sale of colonies and queens.

2. Optimum preservation and processing methods determined for samples for Nosema ceranae detection. Studies of the emerging problem of Nosema ceranae, a microsporidian gut parasite of honey bees require the storage and processing of large numbers of colony samples. ARS scientists at Baton Rouge, LA, have determined optimum methods to streamline the process of the molecular detection and quantification of this parasite. This methods development opens the way to many future studies of the infection process and the selection of disease resistant honey bees.

3. Genetic resistance to Nosema ceranae found in Russian honey bees. The recent introduction of Nosema ceranae into the United States has resulted in varied but sometimes severe colony health problems. Chemical control of the parasite is both very temporary and costly. Genetic control would be ideal but genetic variance in resistance to the parasite his not been documented. ARS scientists at Baton Rouge, LA, have found that honey bee patrilines in Russian colonies vary in their response to Nosema ceranae. This is the first indication that Apis mellifera are have varied resistance to N. ceranae. It opens the way to use a unique marker (sub-family membership) assisted breeding program to produce a line of honey bees that is highly resistant to N. ceranae.

4. Russian honey bee genes now predominant in a feral population of honey bees. Because of the ravages of Varroa destructor, feral populations of honey bees have almost disappeared. Feral honey bees are major pollinators of many plants in a variety of ecosystems so their loss has led to a critical shortage of naturally occurring pollinators. ARS scientists at Baton Rouge, LA, have determined that a feral population in areas near Russian apiaries having varroa resistant honey bees has developed and is predominantly Russian in parentage. This observation suggests that feral populations of honey bees will rebound in areas that have beekeepers that use varroa resistant stock.

5. External small hive beetle traps improved. The small hive beetle has become a severe problem in the south eastern states. Control is difficult but would be enhanced with effective traps in apiaries. An existing ARS developed trap has been improved by ARS scientists at Baton Rouge, LA. Improvements include using a white trap, placing the trap at the height of colony entrances, and enhancing the standard yeast bait with slow-release enthanol. Such traps catch more beetles than the original prototype trap. Additional improvements may yield a trap which will curtail small hive beetle populations.

6. Quality parentage of Russian production queens determined. The quality of matings for commercially marketing queens is a consistent concern for those buying and selling queen honey bees. ARS scientists at Baton Rouge, LA, determined that a very high proportion of them had mated with Russian drones. This documents that the producers of Russian queens are controlling the quality of the stock they produce.


Review Publications
De Guzman, L.I., Frake, A.M., Rinderer, T.E., Arbogast, R.T. 2011. Effect of height and color on the efficiency of the small hive beetle (Coleoptera: Nitidulidae) pole traps. Journal of Economic Entomology. 104(1):26-31.

Sylvester, H.A., Bourgeois, A.L., De Guzman, L.I., Rinderer, T.E. 2011. Presence of Russian honey bee genotypes in swarms in Louisiana. Notes Science of Bee Culture 3(1):9-10; supplement to Bee Culture 139(3).

Rinderer, T.E., De Guzman, L.I., Wagnitz, J.J., Frake, A.M. 2011. The effects of hive color and feeding on the size of winter clusters of Russian honey bee colonies. Bee Culture. 3(1):5-8.

Bourgeois, A.L., Sylvester, H.A., Coy, S., Rinderer, T.E. 2010. Genetic stock identification of production colonies of Russian honey bees. Bee Culture. 2(2):1-2.

Bourgeois, A.L., Beaman, G.D., Rinderer, T.E. 2011. Preservation and processing methods for molecular genetic detection and quantification of Nosema ceranae. Bee Culture. 3(1):1-5.

Last Modified: 8/29/2014
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