The 65th Annual Meeting of the Working Group of the Institutes for Bee Research e.V., held in Koblenz at the end of March, was an opportunity for some 200 scientists, beekeepers and other stakeholders to meet and exchange the most recent findings in bee health research.
On the first day, experts focused on topics in ecology, including wild bees and insect pollination and bee products. This was followed on the second day by topics regarding genetics and breeding, bee physiology, as well as crop / bee safety.
At the meeting was Dr. Tjeerd Blacquière from Wageningen University who presented a project, entitled “Let nature decide: Darwin's black box for selection of resistance to the Varroa mite”, in which he is collaborating with the Bayer Bee Care Center.
Another project to develop an effective, safe dispenser, allowing reliable and convenient application of formic acid vapor for Varroa mite control in beehives, in which Bayer, Bochum University and WaldWieseHolz GmbH are working together, was also presented at the event.
The project seeks to answer the question: Can we select for Varroa-resilient bees?
The answer may be yes. Yet conventional apicultural practices such as the continuous treatment against Varroa mite are impeding natural selection for honey bees which can cope with Varroa infestation. Plant Research International of Wageningen University in the Netherlands has, via natural selection of some of their own honey bee colonies, introduced traits that make the bees more resistant to the Varroa mite, which include behavioral and physiological characteristics.
Led by Senior Scientist Dr Tjeerd Blacquière, the future aim of the project “Natural selection for Varroa-resistant honey bee colonies” is to develop a verified and evaluated protocol for beekeepers based on the methods used in this ‘natural’ selective breeding scheme. Interested beekeepers in Germany and the Netherlands will be assisted through this process by Wageningen University and their partners following this project, including the Bayer Bee Care Center. Despite the program’s promise, Blacquière says there is much work ahead: “We still need to learn why and how some bee colonies cope with Varroa, and how or why Varroa no longer impacts these particular honey bee colonies.”
For Peter Trodtfeld, bee expert and beekeeper at the Bayer Bee Care Center, who also attended the meeting in Koblenz, it is worth the effort: “Breeding Varroa-resistant bee strains may be the more sustainable option in the long-term”.