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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Stoneville, Mississippi » Pollinator Health in Southern Crop Ecosystems Research » Research » Research Project #435114

Research Project: Using Information on Beekeeper Mgmt Practices & Landscape Characteristics to Understand Honeybee Health & Reduce Colony Losses in the Mid-South

Location: Pollinator Health in Southern Crop Ecosystems Research

Project Number: 6066-21000-001-04-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Sep 2, 2019
End Date: Aug 30, 2022

Objective:
Reported colony losses in Tennessee have nearly double during the last two years compared with recent historical losses. Tennessee ranges from a lowland, strongly agricultural environments (west) to mountainous, relatively native environments (east), and thus, honeybee habitats and resources range considerably, and they also includes substantial urban influences in many areas. Interestingly, high colony losses have been observed statewide during the last two years. This may indicate that pathogenic organisms are epidemically influencing bee health in Tennessee. However, colony losses vary considerably among beekeepers, and clearly, hive management practices can and do influence bee health. Tennessee has well over 2,000 registered beekeepers including hobbyists, sideliners, and full-timers. Most sideliner and full-time beekeepers raise bees for honey production, with very few involved in providing bees for pollination services. There is a diversity of beekeeper knowledge, experience, and management practices represented within this group. Mining stakeholder provided data in combination with assessments of bee parasite/pathogen loads, and detailed classification of the landscape surrounding apiaries should elucidate risk factors and identify best management practices that improve bee health and colony survival. Results would be delivered in a feedback loop with beekeepers, especially targeting those producing honeybee products as a source of income, to ultimately improve hive management and reduce colony losses.

Approach:
The PIs have extensive access to beekeeping stakeholders across Tennessee. A subset of professional beekeepers from across the state will be intensively surveyed, modeled after and complimentary of surveys efforts by the Bee Informed Partnership (https://beeinformed.org/). Survey data will be treated confidentially. Our intent is to collect critical information of factors that are strongly related to honeybee health including but not limited to honeybee genetics (queen source/strain), management practices related to varroa mite and other pests, honey harvesting and supplemental feeding practices, hive placement. These data will also include colony losses during the previous two years and subjective estimates of existing colony health within apiaries of eight or more hives. For each of two years, approximately 30 participating beekeepers will provide samples of bees to assess Nosema, Varroa, and tracheal mites levels. Classification of the landscape around these selected apiaries will provide information on the quantity and quality of bee forage within the normal honeybee foraging range. This will utilize existing landscape classification tools and resources but will also require ground-truthing to add further resolution. Ultimately, the relationship of these factors to honeybee ‘success’ will be assessed and shared graphically with stakeholders (including solicited feedback). Our goal is to provide beekeepers with practical and visible information needed to reduce colony losses, and this approach and our results should be broadly applicable to other geographies.