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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Bee Research Laboratory » Research » Research Project #429796

Research Project: An Areawide Approach to Improving Honey Bee Queen Quality and Colony Survival

Location: Bee Research Laboratory

Project Number: 8042-21000-277-34-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Sep 1, 2015
End Date: Aug 31, 2018

Honey bee colonies have been dying at an unacceptably high rate for the past several years. Queen death or queen failures are a large part of the reason honey bee colonies die. We have recent evidence to show that queen failure and poor colony performance can be linked to the viability of sperm stored within her body. Our data show that queens heading colonies in poor health, with poor brood patterns and low bee population, have very low sperm viability (less than 50% viability), while queens from the same apiaries that are heading healthier colonies have sperm viability values that are normal (greater than 85% viability). Male bees, drones, mate with the queen early in her life and she stores the sperm from 8-20 drones. Without viable sperm, a queen will produce only drones. What factors are to blame for the low sperm viability observed in low-quality queens? Is it the drones and their sperm production? Or is it something in the process of rearing queens, the shipping of queens, or in the colony environment that queens are introduced to once received from the queen producer? All are suspect, and we have preliminary data to support this statement: all aspects of the queen-production process need improvement. By using an Area-wide approach, we will improve drone and queen production, shipping conditions, and determine the role of colony environment in queen failures and improve colony survival. We propose to reduce pesticide use in drone source colonies, improve the queen rearing process to promote high-quality queens, optimize the shipping conditions of queens, and finally determine the extent to which colony pests, disease conditions, or pesticide exposure play a role in queen longevity. Queen longevity in the U.S. is currently at an all time low, with 50% of queens dying or being replaced in 6 months. Historically, queens would live for 2-3 years. Improving queen quality and longevity will significantly reduce colony losses and improve colony health, thereby improving honey production and bolstering the honey bee population for pollination services.

The long-term original objectives are listed below, items 1-3 and under each broad objective are the specific areas or objectives to be addressed in Phase I in FY16. The overarching goal is to improve queen health and longevity, thus improving colony survival. 1) DRONES, improving drone health including; season long availability, reductions in heat stress and improving the rearing environment for drones with the use of less-toxic mite treatments and the removal of residues from wax combs to increase sperm viability. 2) QUEENS, improving queen larval nutrition and additives to royal jelly to improve queen quality. 3) SHIPPING, improve the shipping process, reduce heat and cold events by working on shipping container modifications and with the shipping companies to insure compliance with live animal shipping conditions.