Skip to main content
ARS Home » Southeast Area » Baton Rouge, Louisiana » Honey Bee Lab » Research » Research Project #445342

Research Project: Which Queens Produce the Bees for North Dakota Beekeepers

Location: Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology Research

Project Number: 6050-21000-016-032-R
Project Type: Reimbursable Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Nov 1, 2023
End Date: Jun 30, 2024

Despite their agricultural and economic importance, honey bee populations have declined by 61% in the United States during the past 70 years. Beekeepers today expect to lose an average of 30% of their colonies annually. In North Dakota alone, annual losses can be as high as 45%. Genomics has potential to help beekeepers select queens that produce the healthiest and most productive bees for North Dakota. However, these genomic tools have not been developed for beekeepers. This is unfortunate because genomic tools can help solve many of the problems faced by beekeepers. This proposal seeks to provide North Dakota beekeepers with the tools it needs to identify queen stocks best suited for the challenges and demands of commercial beekeepers. If adapted, this technology has profound potential to dramatically increase honey production while decreasing viral and mite damage. 1. Support North Dakota beekeepers by providing free estimates of viral levels, queen quality, honey production, colony ancestry, and genetic diversity. 2. Use data from Objective 1 to identify genetic markers associated with queen quality, low viral and mite levels, and high honey production. 3. Provide genetic and trait information directly to beekeepers in North Dakota at upcoming beekeeper meetings, open-access publications, and via extension material. 4. Maintain a genotyping service to identify the best queens that fit the demands and challenges facing North Dakota beekeepers.

We propose to sampling 1,200 colonies from 30 North Dakota beekeepers. North Dakota’s queens are typically sourced from producers in Texas and California so colonies will be sampled evenly based on each mating location. To measure these traits, all phenotyped colonies will begin as a standardized 4-frame nucleus colonies with new queens in the spring (April). We will sample colonies two times (May/June, August) for varroa infestation, viral load (Deformed Wing Virus Type A, Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus, and Varroa Destructor Virus), nosema, colony size, and honey production. For phenotypes requiring lab analysis, samples will be collected from each colony, temporary stored in liquid nitrogen, and shipped to the Baton Rouge Bee Lab for long-term storage at -80°C. Samples will be shipped through FedEx using the USDA-ARS established business agreement. Once sampled, we will provide beekeepers with information about these measured traits. We will be using inexpensive, low-depth full genome sequencing (Gencove, skim-seq, with 4X coverage per sample) for the 1,200 colonies sampled in North Dakota. Low-pass genome sequencing has been successfully performed in the honey bee previously and costs approximately $40 per DNA sample to sequence a single honey bee genome. Genomic DNA will be extracted from clipped queen wing, which will provide enough DNA for Gencove’s low-pass method (<0.1ng). By focusing on queens within North Dakota, we can identify which mutations are important for colony success in North Dakota. We can then assess the correlation between those mutations and industry-relevant traits (i.e., honey production, viral and varroa tolerance). Essentially, we can ask which mutations are important for colony success in North Dakota and identify which queens have those mutations. This information can be used to predict the “best” queens for North Dakota beekeepers. In addition, by sequencing honeybees within North Dakota, we will provide beekeepers with information on the genetic ancestry of their stocks, make predictions about other traits they may express (e.g., Honey production), and assess genetic diversity within North Dakotan stocks. We will generate research, extension, and educational products for beekeepers in North Dakota. This work will result in at least two peer-reviewed publication. Papers will be submitted to open-access journals that will be freely available to beekeepers. We plan to publish blogs, open-source guides, and newsletter articles to communicate the results of our published, peer-reviewed articles. Garett Slater has given well over 50 extension talks to over 3,000 beekeepers on their research and will continue to communicate the results to beekeepers across North Dakota. Finally, by providing their colony’s genetic material to us, each beekeeper will be provided with a report on the genetics present within their stocks and relative to the stocks found in their state and around the United States (Objective 4). Through whole genome sequencing we can determine the ancestry of honey bee samples in North Dakota and the likelihood they will express traits of interest.