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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Related Topics

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

2013 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. Objective 6: For Russian bee stock, use molecular approaches to investigate the physiological basis for bee immune responses to fungal pathogens (such as chalkbrood), and develop strategies for controlling natural honey bee diseases. Identify molecular bases for honey bee physiological responses to chalkbrood. Identify and assess the role of genes that could potentially be involved in the antifungal activity.

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:
This serves as the final report for project 6413-21000-012-00D. Research and technology transfer related to Russian honey bees (RHB) has resulted in the complete transfer of all RHB lines to industry. Using DNA markers a method to identify RHBs was developed. RHB tracheal mite resistance was shown to be regulated by a few dominant genes. Quantitative trait loci associations were found for RHB resistance to tracheal mites but were not confirmed in a validation study. Management research on RHB found that RHB colonies grow larger during the winter in 8-frame hives, when fed from early November with continual supply of protein supplemented with 25% pollen and a continual trickle of sucrose syrup. Longevity of worker bees from individual colonies produced in the autumn is correlated to the survival of workers in winter clusters, providing a useful estimate of colon longevity. The honey bee diet developed by ARS produced larger colonies than other diets prior to almond pollination. Varroa mite research indicates that in Italian colonies higher levels of varroa mite infestion which are below treatment thresholds cause the loss or the early supersedure of introduced queens. RHB colonies display the Varroa Sensitive Hygienic trait quickly and to a high degree along with having several other mechanisms of resistance. Reproductive varroa mites that are released from the cells infest by hygienic behavior will infest new cells but will not be able to reproduce, explaining the high incidence of non-reproductive mites in hygienic colonies. Colonies of several different stocks of honey bees varied in the onset and severity of Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) symptomology independently from differences in the intensity of varroa infestations. This discovery opens the way to selecting honey bees that are resistant to both varroa mites and DWV. Individual brood with differential varroa infestations have differential immune response patterns. Levels of DWV increase in individual brood as numbers of infesting varroa increase confirming that varroa mites vector DWV. Measurements of the mites that fall to the bottoms of hives present novel ways to evaluate comparative resistance to varroa between colonies. Small Hive Beetle (SHB) research found that RHB are more resistant to SHB than Italian colonies. SHB populations develop well in apiaries having heavy clay soils or even volcanic rubble. SHB populations peak in the autumn suggesting that that might be the best time to trap them. SHB traps in apiaries which are white, are placed at the height of hive entrances, and are baited with yeast dough enriched with slow release ethanol are superior traps. SHB fed a diet of brood, pollen and honey had the highest fecundity. Protein-rich diets caused ovary activation and egg-laying while a diet of honey alone did not. High temperature accelerated ovary activation and egg-laying. A real-time PCR assay was developed to differentiate Nosema (N.) apis and Nosema (N.) ceranae. Variation in patriline response to N. ceranae was detected in RHB, but not Italian Honey Bees (IHB), indicating that there is a genetic component to Nosema resistance.

4. Accomplishments

Review Publications
De Guzman, L.I., Rinderer, T.E., Frake, A.M., Wakefield, M., Marris, G., Budge, G., Brown, M. 2013. Evaluation of the efficacy of small hive beetle (Aethina tumida Murray) bait and lures. The Science of Bee Culture. 5:3-6.

Tarver, M.R., Florane, C.B., Mattison, C.P., Holloway, B.A., Lax, A.R. 2012. Myosin gene expression and protein abundance in different castes of the Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes formosanus). Insects. 3:1190-1199.

Rinderer, T.E., De Guzman, L.I., Frake, A.M. 2013. Associations of Parameters Related to the Fall of Varroa destructor (Mesostigmata: Varroidae) in Russian and Italian Honey Bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae) Colonies. Journal of Economic Entomology. 106(2):566-575.

Jensen, A.B., Aronstein, K.A., Flores, J.M., Vojvodic, S., Palacio, M., Spivak, M. 2013. Standard methods for fungal brood disease research. Journal of Apicultural Research 52(1):#13 in 2013 COLOSS Bee Book

De Graaf, D.C., Alippi, A.M., Antunez, K., Aronstein, K.A., Budge, G., Dekoker, D., De Smet, L., Dingman, D.W., Evans, J.D., Foster, L.J., Funfhaus, A., Garcia-Gonzalez, E., Gregoric, A., Human, H., Murray, K.D., Nguyen, B., Poppinga, L., Spivak, M., Vanengelsdorf, D., Wilkins, S., Genersch, E. 2013. In Vincent Dietemann, James D. Ellis and Peter Neumann (Editors) "Standard methods for Apis mellifera pests and pathogens", "Selected techniques and protocols in American foulbrood research", The COLOSS BEEBOOK, Volume II.

Jensen, A.B., Aronstein, K.A., Flores, J.M., Vojvodic, S., Palacio, M., Spivak, M. 2013. Standard methods for fungal brood disease research. Journal of Apicultural Research. 52(1).

Khongphinitbunjong, K., De Guzman, L.I., Burgett, M.D., Rinderer, T.E., Chantawannakul, P. 2012. Behavioural responses underpinning resistance and susceptibility of honeybees to Tropilaelaps mercedesae. Apidologie. 43(5):590-599.

Kirrane, M.J., De Guzman, L.I., Rinderer, T.E., Frake, A.M., Wagnitz, J., Whelan, P.M. 2012. Age and reproductive status of adult Varroa mites affect grooming success of honey bees.. Experimental and Applied Acarology. 58(4):423-430.

Rinderer, T.E., Oldroyd, B.P., Frake, A.M., De Guzman, L.I., Bourgeois, A.L. 2013. Responses to Varroa destructor and Nosema ceranae by several commercial strains of Australian and North American honey bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Australian Journal of Entomology. 52(2):156-163.

Last Modified: 10/20/2017
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