Propolis Power-Up: How Beekeepers Can Encourage Resin Deposits For Better Hive Health

Entomology Today By Andrew Porterfield April 16, 2019

Propolis is a pliable, resinous mixture that honey bees (Apis mellifera) create by mixing a variety of plant resins, saliva, and beeswax and which they apply to interior surfaces of their hives, namely at points of comb attachment and to seal up cracks and crevices on the interior side of hive walls. Greater propolis production is connected with improved hive health, and a new study finds a few simple methods beekeepers can employ to stimulate increased propolis production.

Propolis, a mass of plant resins built by honey bees inside their hives, has drawn attention in recent years partly because of its alleged (but as yet unproven) health benefits to humans. But, perhaps more important, it also shows health benefits to bees themselves. Created from resins and other oils and fats collected from trees, propolis helps preserve the structural integrity of a bee hive and protects against

Propolis has also been connected to benefiting honey bee (Apis mellifera) immune systems, saving energy that would otherwise have been used to protect against nest-invading beetles like Aethina tumida or parasites like the Varroa destructor mite, Nosema fungus, and viruses. In the past, some beekeepers have tried to keep their hives “clean” of propolis, believing it impeded with honey-making activities. Today, though, scientists and beekeepers have begun looking at encouraging propolis production to help sustain healthy hives.

In a new study published recently in the Journal of Economic Entomology, three researches—Cynthia Hodges, master beekeeper and co-owner of Hodges Honey Apiaries in Dunwoody, Georgia; Keith Delaplane, Ph.D., entomology professor at the University of Georgia; and Berry Brosi, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental science at Emory University in Atlanta—looked at four different ways to enhance propolis growth in bee hives. The team found that three surface modifications—plastic trap material on the hive wall interior, parallel saw cuts on hive wall interior, and brush-roughened wall interiors—were all equally capable of resulting in increased propolis production, compared to a fourth method, a control, in which the hive wall interiors we left unmodified.

The researchers divided 20 colonies into five apiary sites and randomly applied one of the three texture treatments or control to each colony. Bees in the colonies foraged for propolis resins from plants common to the Appalachian Piedmont in the southeastern U.S., including conifers, oaks, pecan, red maple, yellow poplar, and urban ornamental plants. The researchers then measured extensiveness and depth of propolis deposits in the hives over time.

Their results showed that any hive interior treatment significantly increased propolis deposition compared to a non-treatment control. Sampling over time showed propolis hoarding and accumulation, as well. None of the texture treatments showed significantly different results from each other.

While all treatments resulted in more propolis deposition, the researchers point to the roughened interior of the hive walls as the best method for encouraging deposition. In fact, leaving lumber naturally rough, with no planning or sanding, would provide a simple and effective surface for boosting propolis, they write.

“We come down in favor of roughened or un-planed wood,” says Delaplane, “because, unlike the plastic trap, it will not subtract from the bee space engineered around the walls and combs. What you see in our pictures is the work of a steel brush. Naturally un-planed wood would be much rougher and, I would expect, even better at stimulating propolis deposition.”

Other researchers have shown that propolis development has a strong effect on the members of the bee hive. These other investigations have shown that interior walls painted with propolis extract resulted in colonies with lower bacterial loads and with worker bees that expressed lower levels of immune gene expression. Sustained activation of immune genes comes at an energy cost, which can result in a reduction in brood numbers and pose a threat to overall colony health. Further studies have shown that reduced immune activation (and therefore less energy spent on fighting infection) comes from reduced pathogen loads in high-propolis colonies and not from immune suppression by propolis.

“I don’t know of any beekeepers deliberately encouraging their bees to collect propolis,” says Delaplane, adding that many keepers in the past have tried to clear propolis from their hives. “But today we know that this bias is misdirected. I believe encouraging propolis deposition is one more thing beekeepers can do to partner with biology instead of ignore it.”

Worldwide Importance Of Honey Bees For Natural Habitats Captured In New Report

UC San Diego News Center     By Mario Aguilera     January 10, 2018

Global synthesis of data reveals honey bees as world's key pollinator of non-crop plants

Non-native honey bees crowding at a flower of the native coast pricklypear cactus (Opuntia littoralis) in Southern California. Credit: James Hung/UC San DiegoAn unprecedented study integrating data from around the globe has shown that honey bees are the world’s most important single species of pollinator in natural ecosystems and a key contributor to natural ecosystem functions. The first quantitative analysis of its kind, led by biologists at the University of California San Diego, is published Jan. 10 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The report weaves together information from 80 plant-pollinator interaction networks. The results clearly identify the honey bee (Apis mellifera) as the single most frequent visitor to flowers of naturally occurring (non-crop) plants worldwide. Honey bees were recorded in 89 percent of the pollination networks in the honey bee’s native range and in 61 percent in regions where honey bees have been introduced by humans.

One out of eight interactions between a non-agricultural plant and a pollinator is carried out by the honey bee, the study revealed. The honey bee’s global importance is further underscored when considering that it is but one of tens of thousands of pollinating species in the world, including wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies, moths and other bee species.

“Biologists have known for a while that honey bees are widespread and abundant—but with this study, we now see in quantitative terms that they are currently the most successful pollinators in the world,” said Keng-Lou James Hung, who led the study as a graduate student in UC San Diego’s Division of Biological Sciences. He’s now a postdoctoral researcher at the Ohio State University.

The proportion of all floral visits contributed by the western honey bee in 80 plant-pollinator interaction networks in natural habitats worldwide. Honey bees are generally considered a native species in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and introduced elsewhere.Honey bees are native to Africa, the Middle East and Southern Europe and have become naturalized in ecosystems around the world as a result of intentional transport by humans. While feral honey bee populations may be healthy in many parts of the world, the researchers note that the health of managed honey bee colonies is threatened by a host of factors including habitat loss, pesticides, pathogens, parasites and climate change.

“Although they appear to have a disproportionate impact on natural ecosystems, surprisingly we understand very little about the honey bee’s ecological effects in non-agricultural systems,” said study coauthor David Holway, a professor and chair of the Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution in Biological Sciences. “Looking to the future this study raises a lot of new questions.”

For instance, in San Diego, where honey bees are not native, they are responsible for 75 percent of pollinator visits to native plants, the highest honey bee dominance in the set of networks examined for any continental site in the introduced range of the honey bee. This is despite the fact that there are more than 650 species of native bees in San Diego County as well as many other native pollinating insects.

“The consequences of this phenomenon for both native plants that did not evolve with the honey bee and for populations of native insect pollinators is well worth studying,” said Joshua Kohn, the study’s senior author.

“Our study also nicely confirms something that pollination biologists have known for a long time: even in the presence of a highly abundant species that pollinates many plant species, we still need healthy populations of other pollinators for entire plant communities to receive adequate pollination services,” said Hung.

A honey bee pollinates a Carpobrotus edulis plant. The photo was taken by James Hung during field work on plant-pollinator interactions in scrub habitats in San Diego. Credit: James Hung/UC San Diego

The reason for this, Hung noted, is that in habitats where honey bees are present, they nevertheless fail to visit nearly half of all animal-pollinated plant species, on average.

“Our take home message is that while it’s important for us to continue to research how we can improve the health of managed honey bee colonies for agricultural success, we need to further understand how this cosmopolitan and highly successful species impacts the ecology and evolutionary dynamics of plant and pollinator species in natural ecosystems,” said Hung.

Coauthors of the study include Jennifer Kingston of UC San Diego and Matthias Albrecht of Agroecology and Environment, Agroscope, Reckenholzstrasse, in Switzerland.

Funding for the study included a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (DEB-1501566); a Mildred E. Mathias Graduate Student Research Grant and an Institute for the Study of Ecological and Evolutionary Climate Impacts Graduate Fellowship from the University of California Natural Reserve System; a Frontiers of Innovation Scholar Fellowship, an Academic Senate Grant and a McElroy Fellowship from UC San Diego; a Sea and Sage Audubon Society Bloom-Hays Ecological Research Grant; and a California Native Plants Society Educational Grant.

Honey Bees Have Keen Eyesight

Morning AgClips    By Dr. Elisa Rigosi, Lund University/University of Adelaide    April 9, 2017

A western honey bee, also known as a European honey bee (Apis mellifera). Researchers at Lund University, Sweden, and the University of Adelaide, Australia, have shown that honey bees have much sharper eyesight than previously known. (Dr Elisa Rigosi, Lund University) - See more at: (Dr. Elisa Rigosi, Lund University)WASHINGTON — Research conducted at the University of Adelaide has discovered that bees have much better vision than was previously known, offering new insights into the lives of honey bees, and new opportunities for translating this knowledge into fields such as robot vision.

The findings come from “eye tests” given to western honey bees (also known as European honey bees, Apis mellifera) by postdoctoral researcher Dr Elisa Rigosi (Department of Biology, Lund University, Sweden) in the Adelaide Medical School, under the supervision of Dr Steven Wiederman (Adelaide Medical School, University of Adelaide) and Professor David O’Carroll (Department of Biology, Lund University, Sweden).

The results of their work are published today in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

Bee vision has been studied ever since the pioneering research of Dr Karl von Frisch in 1914, which reported bees’ ability to see colours through a clever set of training experiments.

“Today, honey bees are still a fascinating model among scientists, in particular neuroscientists,” Dr Rigosi says.

“Among other things, honey bees help to answer questions such as: how can a tiny brain of less than a million neurons achieve complex processes, and what are its utmost limits? In the last few decades it has been shown that bees can see and categorise objects and learn concepts through vision, such as the concept of ‘symmetric’ and ‘above and below’.

“But one basic question that has only been partially addressed is: what actually is the visual acuity of the honey bee eye? Just how good is a bee’s eyesight?”

Dr Wiederman says: “Previous researchers have measured the visual acuity of bees, but most of these experiments have been conducted in the dark. Bright daylight and dark laboratories are two completely different environments, resulting in anatomical and physiological changes in the resolution of the eye.

“Photoreceptors in the visual system detect variations in light intensity. There are eight photoreceptors beyond each hexagonal facet of a bee’s compound eye, and their eyes are made out of thousands of facets! Naturally, we expected some differences in the quality of bees’ eyesight from being tested in brightly lit conditions compared with dim light,” he says.

Dr Rigosi, Dr Wiederman and Professor O’Carroll set out to answer two specific questions: first, what is the smallest well-defined object that a bee can see? (ie, its object resolution); and second, how far away can a bee see an object, even if it can’t see that object clearly? (ie, maximum detectability limit).

To do so, the researchers took electrophysiological recordings of the neural responses occurring in single photoreceptors in a bee’s eyes. The photoreceptors are detectors of light in the retina, and each time an object passes into the field of vision, it registers a neural response.

Dr Rigosi says: “We found that in the frontal part of the eye, where the resolution is maximised, honey bees can clearly see objects that are as small as 1.9° – that’s approximately the width of your thumb when you stretch your arm out in front of you.

“This is 30% better eyesight than has been previously recorded,” she says.

“In terms of the smallest object a bee can detect, but not clearly, this works out to be about 0.6° – that’s one third of your thumb width at arm’s length. This is about one third of what bees can clearly see and five times smaller than what has so far been detected in behavioural experiments.

“These new results suggest that bees have the chance to see a potential predator, and thus escape, far earlier than what we thought previously, or perceive landmarks in the environment better than we expected, which is useful for navigation and thus for survival,” Dr Rigosi says.

Dr Wiederman says this research offers new and useful information about insect vision more broadly as well as for honey bees.

“We’ve shown that the honey bee has higher visual acuity than previously reported. They can resolve finer details than we originally thought, which has important implications in interpreting their responses to a range of cognitive experiments scientists have been conducting with bees for years.

“Importantly, these findings could also be useful in our work on designing bio-inspired robotics and robot vision, and for basic research on bee biology,” he says.

This research has been supported with funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC), the Swedish Research Council, and the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education.

University of Adelaide

Honey Bee Genetics Sheds Light on Bee Origins

Science Daily    Source: University of California - Davis    February 17, 2017

Where do honey bees come from? A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis and UC Berkeley clears some of the fog around honey bee origins. The work could be useful in breeding bees resistant to disease or pesticides.

UC Davis postdoctoral researcher Julie Cridland is working with Santiago Ramirez, assistant professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, and Neil Tsutsui, professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley, to understand the population structure of honey bees (Apis mellifera) in California. Pollination by honey bees is essential to major California crops, such as almonds. Across the U.S., the value of "pollination services" from bees has been estimated as high as $14 billion.

"We're trying to understand how California honey bee populations have changed over time, which of course has implications for agriculture," Ramirez said.

To understand California bees, the researchers realized that they first needed to better understand honey bee populations in their native range in the Old World.

"We kind of fell into this project a little bit by accident," Cridland said. "Initially we were looking at the data as a preliminary to other analyses, and we noticed some patterns that weren't previously in the literature."

The new study combines two large existing databases to provide the most comprehensive sampling yet of honey bees in Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

Unrelated Bee Lineages in Close Proximity

Previously, researchers had assumed an origin for honey bees in north-east Africa or the Middle East. But the situation turns out to be more complicated than that, Cridland said.

"You might think that bees that are geographically close are also genetically related, but we found a number of divergent lineages across north-east Africa and the Middle East," she said.

There are two major lineages of honey bees in Europe -- C, "Central European," including Italy and Austria and M, including Western European populations from Spain to Norway -- which give rise to most of the honey bees used in apiculture worldwide. But although C and M lineage bees exist side by side in Europe and can easily hybridize, they are genetically distinct and arrived in different parts of the world at different times.

M lineage bees were the first to be brought to north America, in 1622. The more docile C lineage bees came later, and today many California bees are from the C lineage, but there is still a huge amount of genetic diversity, Ramirez said.

"You can't understand the relationships among bee populations in California without understanding the populations they come from," Cridland said.

In the Middle East, the O lineage hails from Turkey and Jordan, and Y from Saudia Arabia and Yemen. The main African lineage is designated A.

At this point, the researchers cannot identify a single point of origin for honey bees, but the new work does clear up some confusion from earlier studies, they said. In some cases, diverged lineages that happen to be close to each other have mixed again. Previous, more limited studies have sampled those secondarily mixed populations, giving confusing results.

"We're not making any strong claim about knowing the precise origin," Cridland said. "What we're trying to do is talk about a scientific problem, disentangling these relationships between lineages, the genetic relationships from the geography."

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of California - Davis. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Julie M. Cridland, Neil D. Tsutsui, Santiago R. Ramírez. The complex demographic history and evolutionary origin of the western honey bee, Apis mellifera. Genome Biology and Evolution, 2017; DOI: 10.1093/gbe/evx009

Providing an Additional Source of Minerals Might Be Just the Thing for Honey Bees

CATCHE THE BUZZ     February 25, 2017

Despite having few taste genes, honey bees are fine-tuned to know what minerals the colony may lack and proactively seek out nutrients in conjunction with the season when their floral diet varies.

This key finding from a new study led by Tufts University scientists sheds light on limited research on the micronutrient requirements of honey bees, and provides potentially useful insight in support of increased health of the bee population, which has declined rapidly in recent years for a variety of complex reasons.

The research, published in Ecological Entomology, suggests that beekeepers should provide opportunities for their bees to access specific nutrients, possibly through a natural mineral lick, to support their balanced health because the bees will search for the minerals when they need them. It is also an opportunity for the general public to support the bee population by planting a diverse range of flowers that bloom throughout the year.

“Currently, there are micronutrient supplements for managed bee hives on the market but there is little research backing up which minerals the bees actually need,” said Rachael Bonoan, the lead study author and a Ph.D. candidate in biology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts. “The fact that honey bees switch their mineral preferences based on what is available in their floral diet is really exciting. This means that somehow, honey bees know which nutrients the colony needs. This insight helps us support honey bees and other pollinators by providing access to diverse nutrient sources all year long.”

The findings show that honey bees forage for essential minerals that aid their physiological health, even though they have relatively few taste genes. In the fall, when floral resources dwindle, the study showed that bees seek out specific nutrients — calcium, magnesium, and potassium, all commonly found in pollen — by foraging in compound-rich or “dirty” water. When flowers and pollen are abundant in the summer, the bees prefer deionized water and sodium, ultimately suggesting that bees are foraging for minerals in water based on what is lacking in their floral diet.

Bonoan and her research team studied eight honey bee hives that were located about 100 yards from the research area. The bees were trained to come to the research site because researchers placed jars of sugar water at staged intervals until the worker bees became accustomed to the ready food supply.

Researchers set up water vials with different minerals such as sodium, magnesium or phosphorus and catalogued the number of bees that visited each vial. At the end of the day, they also measured how much the bees drank from each vessel to determine which minerals were most in demand.

The researchers also tracked the hive each bee belonged to by dusting worker bees with different colored powders as they left the hives. The team noted which colored bees were drinking from which mineral-laden water source, and later measured the amount of brood to determine whether there is a connection between bee health and specific minerals.

The study results related to hive health were inconclusive. While stronger colonies do tend to visit more minerals than weaker colonies, it was difficult to determine which came first, being a stronger colony or accessing mineral resources. Additional data is necessary to assess colony fitness.

Journal Reference:

Philip T. Starks et al. Seasonality of salt foraging in honey bees (Apis mellifera). Ecological Entomology, 2016; DOI: 1111/een.12375

A History of the Varroa Mite. Its Introduction and Effects Around the World

APIS Information 

The Varroa bee mite (Varroa jacobsoni) was first discovered by A.C. Oudemans in 1904, as a parasite of the Asian honey bee, Apis cerana. In the late 1940s,   Through movement of the western honey bee, Apis mellifera, colonies into and out of Asia, Varroa mite became established on honey bees first in Africa and then in Europe.  Quickly, it spread around the world. It was first detected in the U.S. in 1987; Mexico and Canada quickly closed their borders to U.S. bees.  Varroa has now been in the U.S.  for over two decades and a robust history exists published in two parts: 1 and 2.

Only one continent, Australia, remains free of the mite, however, it is expected to be introduced in the near future and the continent continues to have scares about various reports of the mite.  It is now known that at least five species (18  haplotypes) of Varroa mites can be found in the tropics and Dr. Denis Anderson, an Australian researcher, has renamed the specific mite (Korean in origin)  that is so damaging worldwide as Varroa destructor.  This concept of renaming organisms might become more common in the future as DNA technology improves. 

Varroa continues to be considered the most devastating parasite of honey bee colonies in existence. The mite is absolutely dependent on the honey bee and cannot complete its life cycle without being in contact with the honey bees. One reason is that the mite-bee relationship is relatively very new. Most parasites have evolved mechanisms so that they do not kill their hosts, in the long range disadvantageous. Thus, the original host, Apis cerana, is somewhat resistant to predation by mites. However in temperate areas, almost every Apis mellifera colony infested by Varroa will be killed unless there is intervention to reduce the mite population.  There is mounting evidence, however, that certain European honey bees and other populations might be somewhat resistant/tolerant  and incipient breeding programs exist to cultivate and enhance this “Varroa survivor stock.”  At the moment theRussian Honey Bee Breeding Program and those based on removal of mites through colony hygiene are the most promising.  Read contributor Randy Oliver’s ideas on the possibility of breeding honey bees  more resistant to Varroa now and in the future.

Detection of Varroa can be accomplished by several methods. Most regulatory agencies use the “ether roll.” A sample of bees are put in a glass jar and a squirt of ether mixture (commercially available engine starting fluid) added. The jar is agitated and the mites stick to the sides. There is a technology called  the sugar shake, which doesn’t kill honey bees; it appears to be ok for detection, but not treatment.  Beekeepers can also visually examine the brood (capped brood is best) and/or hive debris that has fallen on the bottom board covered with sticky white paper (“sticky board“).  See a rather complete hive examination by contributor Oliver here.

Perhaps the best source of information on detection of Varroa mites is found in what is known as the Coloss Bee Book.  There is information that in the summer when colonies have sealed brood, it is easier to detect mites in hive debris than sampling brood itself.  

Very little information exists on determining the beginnings of a Varroa infestation and subsequent thresholds for treatment.  Varroa mite infestation is both a honey bee and beekeeping community issue and treatments should be tailored to this fact.  Many, beekeepers prefer to use no chemical treatment.  Treatments continue to have evolved over the years as mites have become resistant to specific materials.   In addition, the use of so-called “soft chemicals,” such as essential oils and/or organic acids are now considered feasible approaches.  However, only those currently approved by the  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are legal.   It may come as a surprise that some sixteen chemicals are on the list of approved materials.   What is missing is what specific conditions are necessary for adequate control for each.  Nevertheless, researchers and beekeepers continue to look for a balance in controlling Varroa via Integrated Pest Management.

Most recently, scientists and beekeepers have realized that Varroa infestation is more complex than originally thought.  It turns out that viruses vectored by the mite may be a huge factor in honey bee colony losses.  For a comprehensive study on Varroa, see Biology and Control of Varroa destructor by Peter Rosenkranz a,*, Pia Aumeier b, Bettina Ziegelmann, The Journal of Invertebrate Pathology.

A new technology on the horizon known as RNAi  may have some utility in the future as a “silver bullet.”  However, this is only a dream at the moment. Treatment still relies on a delicate balancing act.  as one wag put it, “it’s not easy killing a bug on a bug without killing both.”

The Africanized honey bee is a special  case with reference to Varroa and appears to be much more tolerant in Brazil as well as its parent stock in South Africa.  Other countries may have tolerant stock due to absence of treatments, including war torn areas like  Iraq.  At least one dissertation has dealt with this situation in Mexico.

Increasing pollinator numbers and diversity a possible way to increase crop yields    By Bob Yirka  January 22, 2016   

Apis mellifera on Phacelia tanacetifolia. Flower strips along crop fields attract pollinators and can increase the number of pollinators in the focal crop. Here, a honey bee is seen approaching a lacy phacelia in bloom, a highly attractive plant to bees (note the blue pollen baskets on the hind legs). This material relates to a paper that appeared in the 22 January 2016, issue of Science, published by AAAS. The paper, by Lucas Alejandro Garibaldi at Instituto de Investigaciones en Recursos Naturales, Agroecología y Desarrollo Rural (IRNAD) in Río Negro, Argentina, and colleagues was titled, "Mutually beneficial pollinator diversity and crop yield outcomes in small and large farms." Credit: Sondre Dahle

A large team of researchers with members from across the globe has found that small farms with higher densities of pollinators produce more food than those with lower densities—for larger farms, the difference in yield was more closely related to pollinator diversity. In their paper published in the journal Science, the team describes their study and analysis of multiple farms in Asia, South America and Africa over a five year period and what they learned about ways to increase crop yields in the years ahead.

Some scientists have predicted that the amount of food grown will have to double by 2050 to keep up with a growing world population, and one way to do that, the  with this new effort contend, is by narrowing or closing the  gap (the difference in yield between the most productive  and the least). One way to do that, they believe, is by increasing the number of pollinators on small (less than 2 hectares) farms and increasing diversity on larger farms.

The researchers came to this conclusion by conducting a five year study of 344 farms of all sizes, looking at 33 crops in particular, all of which need pollinators to bear fruit. The team monitored pollinator visits for each field counting numbers of pollinators broken down by species to allow for calculating diversity. In analyzing the data that was collected, the researchers found that the yield gap on small farms was approximately 47 percent and that there were far fewer pollinators visiting lower yield farms than the higher yield ones, suggesting that increasing pollinator numbers on less productive farms would likely bump up yields. The researchers note this is important because approximately 2 billion people around the world rely on food from such small farms. With larger farms, the story was different, rather than pollinator density making a difference, it was diversity—farms with a higher degree of different pollinators, such as bees, beetles, wasps, butterflies, etc. had higher yields. This suggests of course that lower yield producing large farms could bump their yields simply by attracting more different kinds of pollinators.

The researchers suggest that farms of any size could attract more pollinators by planting strips of plants, such as flowers, close to crops that are very attractive to pollinators or by changing pesticide application patterns to minimize exposure to .

    Explore further: Pollinator decline not reducing crop yields just yet

More information: L. A. Garibaldi et al. Mutually beneficial pollinator diversity and crop yield outcomes in small and large farms, Science (2016). DOI: 10.1126/science.aac7287

Ecological intensification, or the improvement of crop yield through enhancement of biodiversity, may be a sustainable pathway toward greater food supplies. Such sustainable increases may be especially important for the 2 billion people reliant on small farms, many of which are undernourished, yet we know little about the efficacy of this approach. Using a coordinated protocol across regions and crops, we quantify to what degree enhancing pollinator density and richness can improve yields on 344 fields from 33 pollinator-dependent crop systems in small and large farms from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For fields less than 2 hectares, we found that yield gaps could be closed by a median of 24% through higher flower-visitor density. For larger fields, such benefits only occurred at high flower-visitor richness. Worldwide, our study demonstrates that ecological intensification can create synchronous biodiversity and yield outcomes.

Read more at:

PhD Project Honey Bee Resistance to Varroa

Dr. Jarkko Routtu
City Halle(Saale)
Country Germany
PhD project in the Molecular Ecology group at Martin-Luther-University, Halle-Wittenberg, Germany. 
The aim of the project is to find genetic basis of the honey bee Apis mellifera resistance to Varroa destructor. This will be done by using the latest methods in genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics. Thus representing a unique opportunity to gain experience in an area which is of high demand in the research field. The group has...

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Queen Bee Microbiomes Differ From Those of Worker Bees   By Sravanth Verma     March 14, 2015 

Researchers from the University of Indiana have published the very first comprehensive analysis of queen honey bee gut bacteria, and have reported that these defer markedly from those of worker bees.


The gut bacteria (gut microbiomes) are generally transmitted through the maternal line, in contrast with the findings of the honey bee (Apis mellifera). Study co-author Irene L.G. Newton, also an assistant professor of biology at the University of Indiana said, “In the case of the honey bee, we found that the microbiome in queen bees did not reflect those of worker bees — not even the progeny of the queen or her attendants. In fact, queen bees lack many of the bacterial groups that are considered to be core to worker microbiomes.”

Unlike most other mammals, including human beings, honey bees' gut bacteria transmission takes place through the insect's environment and social context, which is referred to as horizontal transmission. Thus, the striking differences between queen bee and worker bee diet and environment are reflected in the microbiome. Queens usually consume protein-laden royal jelly and have very limited exposure to the outside world and the rest of the comb, besides her nest. Workers by contrast feed on “bee bread” and travel about quite a bit.

“In some ways, the development of the queen microbiome mirrors that of workers, with larval queens’ associated bacteria resembling those found in worker larvae,” Newton said. “But, by the time they mature, queens have developed a microbial signature distinct from the rest of the colony.”

Honey production and bee-keeping is a multi-million dollar business thanks to the many uses and benefits of honey. Bee keepers sometimes remove a queen bee and transfer them to new hives. Based on this study, such practices may not have a detrimental effect on colony health.

“Because the queen microbiome does not reflect the workers within a specific colony, the physical movement of queens from one colony environment to another does not seem to have any major effects on either the queen gut or worker gut communities,” Newton said.

The study titled "Characterization of the honey bee microbiome throughout the queen-rearing process" was published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, in February 2015.

Read more:

Small Hive Beetle is in Europe to Stay

COLOSS     Press Release    November 3, 2014

The small hive beetle (Aethina tumida) is an exotic pest originally from South Africa which can infest honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies, destroying combs and brood often causing total colony loss. It invaded the southern USA in the 1990s causing significant economic loss, and has later been found in Australia, Canada and elsewhere. It is subject to statutory control in most European countries, and contingency plans have been in place for some years in anticipation of its arrival.

On 11th September 2014 the small hive beetle was discovered by beekeepers in Gioia Tauro, in south west Italy. The source of the outbreak is currently unknown. Attempts were made to eradicate the beetles, by killing colonies and treating soil with insecticide, setting up a 20 km protection zone and 100 km surveillance zone around the infested colonies.
Subsequent investigation has found that it is present in 48 apiaries of 13 bordering municipalities, all of them concentrated in an area of 10 km radius. Italian beekeepers have asked that the policy of compulsory destruction be halted, and other measures to avoid spread be implemented.

Dr Franco Mutinelli of the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie2 says: ”Our inspections have shown us that the beetle is found in strong bee colonies as well as weak ones, in freshly made combs as well as old ones, and in nucleus colonies as well as full colonies. However, until now the infestation appears limited to this area of Calabria region”.

The President of the international honey bee protection network COLOSS1 Prof. Peter Neumann says: “The COLOSS association is greatly concerned about this discovery, which represents the permanent arrival of this pest into Europe. It is inevitable that it will spread to other European countries, but we cannot yet predict what its effects on the beekeeping industry will be. COLOSS members will work together to bring scientific results into practice for the benefit of beekeepers to help them fight this serious pest”.

The small hive beetle (Aethina tumida) is an exotic pest originally from South Africa which can infest honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies, destroying combs and brood often causing total colony loss. It invaded the southern USA in the 1990s causing significant economic loss, and has later been found in Australia, Canada and elsewhere. It is subject to statutory control in most European countries, and contingency plans have been in place for some years in anticipation of its arrival.On 11th September 2014 the small hive beetle was discovered by beekeepers in Gioia Tauro, in south west Italy. The source of the outbreak is currently unknown. Attempts were made to eradicate the beetles, by killing colonies and treating soil with insecticide, setting up a 20 km protection zone and 100 km surveillance zone around the infested colonies.  

Subsequent investigation has found that it is present in 48 apiaries of 13 bordering municipalities, all of them concentrated in an area of 10 km radius. Italian beekeepers have asked that the policy of compulsory destruction be halted, and other measures to avoid spread be implemented.

Dr Franco Mutinelli of the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie2 says: ”Our inspections have shown us that the beetle is found in strong bee colonies as well as weak ones, in freshly made combs as well as old ones, and in nucleus colonies as well as full colonies. However, until now the infestation appears limited to this area of Calabria region”.

The President of the international honey bee protection network COLOSS1 Prof. Peter Neumann says: “The COLOSS association is greatly concerned about this discovery, which represents the permanent arrival of this pest into Europe. It is inevitable that it will spread to other European countries, but we cannot yet predict what its effects on the beekeeping industry will be. COLOSS members will work together to bring scientific results into practice for the benefit of beekeepers to help them fight this serious pest”.

Sunspot Activity Affects Honey Bees’ Ability to Find Their Way Home

IBRA     Press Release    September 14, 2014
Fluctuations in magnetic fields, including those caused by solar storms, may interfere with the 
magnetoreceptors in honey bees so that fewer bees return to their hives from foraging trips. A 
new study published today in the Journal of Apicultural Research finds that this disruption may 
be so severe that the flying bees disappear from their hive and that these losses may 
contribute to colony failure.
Bees can sense and use the earth’s magnetic fields to help them to identify their position and find their 
route home. This ability called magnetoreception is similar to that found in birds, fish and dolphins. 
Whilst bee magnetoreception has long been known, this new paper by Dr Thomas Ferrari from Pollen 
Bank, California, USA, for the first time identifies solar activity as one of the many causes of honey bee 

Widespread honey bee colony loss is not a new problem, and we now understand that many of these 
losses are due to various interacting factors including pests, diseases, pesticides and availability of 
suitable forage. Yet sometimes bees disappear without showing signs of illness, leaving adequate food, 
healthy brood but only a small cluster of bees. With good husbandry these remaining bees can 
sometimes be restored into a vibrant colony, and the disorder is not transmitted to other colonies. This 
situation can be distinguished from swarming behaviour and is one form of colony collapse - the flying 
bees simply vanish and their colonies fail. 

Like humans, bees use several different senses for navigation, but magnetoreception seems to become 
increasingly important the further the bee is from its hive. Through a series of experiments that subject 
foraging bees to magnetic fields to disrupt their ability to navigate, Dr Ferrari shows that they are less 
able to find their way home. Their homing ability also seems to be affected by uncontrolled, natural 
fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetosphere. The study links documented periods of increased levels of 
solar storms and disruption to the magnetosphere to increased levels of honey bee colony loss. 

IBRA Science Director Norman Carreck says: “For humans, the impact of sunspots on magnetic fields 
and their effects on bees is a difficult concept to grasp. Perhaps we could liken it to humans, who rely 
on sight, becoming lost in fog when we have no visual clues to help us identify our location. In 
unfamiliar territory any landmarks would be harder to recognise, so we find it harder is to work out 
where we are. This interesting study throws light on a curious aspect of bee biology. It is only part of 
the story of colony losses, but an aspect which merits further study.” 


Feral Colonies...Good or Bad?

This message brought to us by CATCH THE BUZZ: Kim Flottum,  Bee Culture, The Magazine Of American Beekeeping, published by the A.I. Root Company. Twitter.FacebookBee Culture’s Blog

Source:  PlosOne  Published August 15, 2014

Catherine E. Thompson, Jacobus C. Biesmeijer, Theodore R. Allnutt, Stéphane Pietravalle, Giles E. Budge

Parasite Pressures on Feral Honey Bees  Feral Colonies Are Pathogen Reservoirs. A PlosOne Publication.

Feral honey bee populations have been reported to be in decline due to the spread of Varroa destructor, an ectoparasitic mite that when left uncontrolled leads to virus build-up and colony death. While pests and diseases are known causes of large-scale managed honey bee colony losses, no studies to date have considered the wider pathogen burden in feral colonies, primarily due to the difficulty in locating and sampling colonies, which often nest in inaccessible locations such as church spires and tree tops. In addition, little is known about the provenance of feral colonies and whether they represent a reservoir of Varroa tolerant material that could be used in apiculture. Samples of forager bees were collected from paired feral and managed honey bee colonies and screened for the presence of ten honey bee pathogens and pests using qPCR. Prevalence and quantity was similar between the two groups for the majority of pathogens, however feral honey bees contained a significantly higher level of deformed wing virus than managed honey bee colonies. An assessment of the honey bee race was completed for each colony using three measures of wing venation. There were no apparent differences in wing morphometry between feral and managed colonies, suggesting feral colonies could simply be escapees from the managed population. Interestingly, managed honey bee colonies not treated for Varroa showed similar, potentially lethal levels of deformed wing virus to that of feral colonies. The potential for such findings to explain the large fall in the feral population and the wider context of the importance of feral colonies as potential pathogen reservoirs is discussed.

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Scientists Track Gene Activity When Honey Bees Do and Don't Eat Honey

The following is brought to us by ABJ Extra    July 18, 2014  

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Many beekeepers feed their honey bees sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup when times are lean inside the hive. This practice has come under scrutiny, however, in response to colony collapse disorder, the massive -- and as yet not fully explained -- annual die-off of honey bees in the U.S. and Europe. Some suspect that inadequate nutrition plays a role in honey bee declines.

In a new study, described in Scientific Reports, researchers took a broad look at changes in gene activity in response to diet in the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera), and found significant differences occur depending on what the bees eat.

The researchers looked specifically at an energy storage tissue in bees called the fat body, which functions like the liver and fat tissues in humans and other vertebrates.

"We figured that the fat body might be a particularly revealing tissue to examine, and it did turn out to be the case," said University of Illinois entomology professor and Institute for Institute for Genomic Biology director Gene Robinson, who performed the new analysis together with entomology graduate student Marsha Wheeler.

The researchers limited their analysis to foraging bees, which are older, have a higher metabolic rate and less energy reserves (in the form of lipids stored in the fat body) than their hive-bound nest mates -- making the foragers much more dependent on a carbohydrate-rich diet, Robinson said.

"We reasoned that the foragers might be more sensitive to the effects of different carbohydrate sources," he said.

The researchers focused on gene activity in response to feeding with honey, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), or sucrose. They found that those bees fed honey had a very different profile of gene activity in the fat body than those relying on HFCS or sucrose. Hundreds of genes showed differences in activity in honey bees consuming honey compared with those fed HFCS or sucrose. These differences remained even in an experimental hive that the researchers discovered was infected with deformed wing virus, one of the many maladies that afflict honey bees around the world.

"Our results parallel suggestive findings in humans," Robinson said. "It seems that in both bees and humans, sugar is not sugar -- different carbohydrate sources can act differently in the body."

Some of the genes that were activated differently in the honey-eating bees have been linked to protein metabolism, brain-signaling and immune defense. The latter finding supports a 2013 study led by U. of I. entomology professor and department head May Berenbaum, who reported that some substances in honey increase the activity of genes that help the bees break down potentially toxic substances such as pesticides.

"Our results further show honey induces gene expression changes on a more global scale, and it now becomes important to investigate whether these changes can affect bee health," Robinson said.

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Believe it or not...GMO Bees!

This message brought to us by CATCH THE BUZZ: Kim Flottom,  Bee Culture, The Magazine Of American Beekeeping, published by the A.I. Root Company. Twitter.FacebookBee Culture’s Blog.

A breakthrough in the efforts to genetically modify honey bees was recently reported by Christina Schulte and colleagues from Heinrich Heine University in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Schulte et al. reported the creation of a honey bee containing a “foreign” gene — in this case, one that made some of the cells in the bee glow. This is a first in bee research. These researchers did not establish a colony of genetically-modified bees; they only showed that genetically-manipulated queens could produce genetically-modified drones in the lab. It was a proof of concept.

We have known the genome sequence of the honey bee, Apis mellifera, since 2006. The bee genome helps bee biologists learn how honey bees tick, and it has already provided insights. The genome is rich in genes associated with smell, but it has relatively fewer genes associated with taste and immune functions, reflecting evolutionary adaptations associated with their unique lifestyle.

Using genetic technologies in the laboratory to actually manipulate the bee genome in living bees will lead to deeper insights, such as how they fight infections like foulbrood disease or parasites like Varroa mites, as well as the genetic basis for bee behavior.

Imagine you know a little bit about cars and you want to figure out what makes them run. A manual is available, but it’s in some kind of code. One approach would be to take a hammer and, starting with one part at a time, break things and then see how the “mutated” car functions.

“Oh look, now it doesn’t start — that must be a starter thingy,” you might deduce.

“Now all the lights and the radio don’t work — that must be an electrical thingamabob.”

And so on. Pretty soon you would know a lot about how the car works and the role of many of its parts, and the coded manual would make more sense too.

This is pretty much how geneticists might approach the problem of understanding how bees function. Geneticists would not use a hammer, but they would use genetic technologies to manipulate the genome of living bees to see how those alterations affected the organism.

Today there are many technologies that enable scientists to insert genes into chromosomes. In the case of bees, applying those technologies has proven very difficult. This is because insect-genome-modification technologies require physically injecting these technologies (usually bits of DNA) into honey bee eggs, having the eggs hatch and develop into fertile queens, and then getting the queens to reproduce. However, bees do not like having their eggs injected.

The key to Schulte et al.’s success was their innovative approaches to manipulating and controlling bee reproduction and behavior in the laboratory so they could successfully inject their eggs. They have forged an important path that others can follow, albeit a challenging one.

Just as the human genome enables human biology to be understood for the purposes of developing therapeutics and solutions to unwanted conditions, these results represent the beginning of a similar phase of bee research.

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Scientists Link Honey Bees' Changing Roles Throughout Their Lives to Brain Chemistry

ABJ EXTRA: The following is brought to us by the American Bee Journal.   May 8, 2014

Scientists have been linking an increasing range of behaviors and inclinations from monogamy to addiction to animals', including humans', underlying biology. To that growing list, they're adding division of labor — at least in Africanized bees. A report published in ACS' Journal of Proteome Research presents new data that link the amounts of certain neuropeptides in these notorious bees' brains with their jobs inside and outside the hive.

Mario Sergio Palma and colleagues explain that dividing tasks among individuals in a group is a key development in social behavior among Hymenoptera insects, which include bees, ants, sawflies and wasps. One of the starkest examples of this division of labor is the development of "castes," which, through nutrition and hormones, results in long-lived queens that lay all the thousands of eggs in a colony and barren workers that forage for food and protect the hive. Bee researchers had already observed that honeybees, including Africanized Apis mellifera, better known as "killer" bees, divide tasks by age. As workers get older, their roles change from nursing and cleaning the hive to guarding and foraging. Palma's team wanted to see whether peptides in the brain were associated with the bees' shifting duties.

They found that the amounts of two substances varied by time and location in the brains of the honeybees in a way that mirrored the timing of their changing roles. "Thus, these neuropeptides appear to have some functions in the honeybee brain that are specifically related to the age-related division of labor," the scientists conclude.

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Read report at ACS' Journal of Proteome Research

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Apis Newsletter From Malcolm T. Sanford: April 2014

The April 2014 Apis Newsletter from Dr. Malcolm T. Sanford is hot off the press and chock full of great BEE information.

View the latest newsletter, check out the archives, and subscribe to the newsletter at:      
More about Dr. Malcolm T. Sanford
APIS Information Rescource Center at Squiddo:
Keeping Honeybee by Malcolm T. Sanford and Richard E. Bonney   


Disease Associations Between Honeybees and Bumblebees as a Threat to Wild Pollinators  M. A. FürstD. P. McMahonJ. L. OsborneR. J. Paxton M. J. F. Brown  2/20/14

Emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) pose a risk to human welfare, both directly1 and indirectly, by affecting managed livestock and wildlife that provide valuable resources and ecosystem services, such as the pollination of crops2. Honeybees (Apis mellifera), the prevailing managed insect crop pollinator, suffer from a range of emerging and exotic high-impact pathogens34, and population maintenance requires active management by beekeepers to control them. Wild pollinators such as bumblebees (Bombus spp.) are in global decline56, one cause of which may be pathogen spillover from managed pollinators like honeybees78 or commercial colonies of bumblebees9. Here we use a combination of infection experiments and landscape-scale field data to show that honeybee EIDs are indeed widespread infectious agents within the pollinator assemblage. The prevalence of deformed wing virus (DWV) and the exotic parasite Nosema ceranae in honeybees and bumblebees is linked; as honeybees have higher DWV prevalence, and sympatric bumblebees and honeybees are infected by the same DWV strains, Apis is the likely source of at least one major EID in wild pollinators. Lessons learned from vertebrates1011 highlight the need for increased pathogen control in managed bee species to maintain wild pollinators, as declines in native pollinators may be caused by interspecies pathogen transmission originating from managed pollinators.

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Queen Bee's Honesty is the Best Policy For Reproductive Signals

Penn State     By Sara Lajeunesse 11/13/13



UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Queen bees convey honest signals to worker bees about their reproductive status and quality, according to an international team of researchers, who say their findings may help to explain why honey bee populations are declining.

"We usually think animals' chemicals (called pheromones) as communicatoion systems that convey only very simple sorts of information," said Christina Grozinger, professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, Penn State. "However, this study demonstrates that queen honey bees are conveying a lot of nuanced information...


Related LA Times article Queen bees tell the whole hive about their sexual flings


Sex Determiner Gene of Honey Bee More Complicated Than Thought

Science Daily 10/31/13

Bee colonies consist of a queen bee, lots of female worker bees and some male drones. The gene that determines the sex of the bees is much more complex than has been assumed up until now and has developed over the course of evolution at a very high rate. This is the finding of an international team of scientists under the direction of Dr. Martin Hasselmann of the Institute for Genetics of the University of Cologne. The study has been published in the Oxford journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Male honey bees (Apis mellifera) hatch from unfertilized eggs and females from fertilized ones. In these fertilized eggs...

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UC Davis Department of Entomology Apiary Newsletter July/Aug 2013

From Dr. Eric Mussen, Apiculturist and Editor, U.C. Apiaries, University of California, July/Aug 2013 Apiary Newsletter

Hi, Folks, I hope your beekeeping year has been more successful, from a honey crop standpoint, than most of California. Continued drought is really hurting our bees.

Also, before I forget to do it, I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to Kathy Keatley Garvey for the marvelous job she has been doing editing my bi-monthly offerings. She has writing expertise which she brings to bear on my articles, and she has a really fun, daily blog called “Bug Squad.” Her topics vary, but often have something to do with insects or other nature items, especially honey bees.  Her gorgeous photographs accompany her entries. Take a look – you’ll enjoy her efforts.

 With the permission of Dr. Eric Mussen, we have a attached the UC Davis Department of Entomology July/August Apiary Newsletter.