Research Project

Assessing Molecular, Individual, and Colony Markers of Local and Important Stocks to Improve Honey Bee Health in Alberta

Outcomes from this project will improve honey bee health and contribute to the sustainability of the apicultural industry in Alberta, the prairies, and Canada by strengthening the natural defenses and resiliency of honey bees”

How will this research impact Alberta’s agriculture industry?

Did you know that Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba produce 79% of Canadian honey and that prairie canola and other crops are heavily dependent on bee pollination.

The health of honey bees on the prairies is jeopardized by several stressors, and high annual colony mortality threaten the sustainability of beekeeping operations in this region and the pollination they provide.

As treatments are often costly, time-consuming, impractical, or ineffective, the assessment of the intrinsic quality of replacement stocks and local breeding efforts are key for sustaining honey bee health. Globally, many efforts are ongoing, but it is unclear what kind of markers (molecular levels tests, individual traits, or group level traits) are best to predict honey bee colony performance and survival.

This research project aims to systematically compare markers from these three classes under different, field-realistic conditions in Alberta. This project will evaluate new genetic stocks in Alberta, guide marker choices for breeding, and contribute to our understanding of honey bee health problems in the prairies.

Promoting honey bee health also benefits many crop industries such as oilseeds, soybeans, forage plants such as clover; fruits such as blueberry; and cucurbits such as cucumbers, and squash by ensuring adequate pollination services and maximizing yield and quality

Why did RDAR invest in this research project?

This research project brings together new research collaborations and partnerships. Olav Rueppell (who is new to the University of Alberta) will work alongside bee researchers Renata Borba and Shelley Hoover. This project will produce direct research outcomes that will impact Alberta producers. This research will targets two research priorities set by Alberta Beekeepers Commission.

  1. Best management practices (interactions among pesticides and other honey bee stressors such as poor nutrition, pests and diseases, and colony movement)
  2. Genetics and Breeding (genomic understanding of selectable traits, queen rearing best management practices, testing imported queens for quality).

In the short term this project seeks to improve the apicultural breeding strategies not only by identifying predictive markers of colony success in one class of markers but also by comparing between marker classes of complex colony-level traits, individual queen characteristics, and molecular information.

The most immediate benefit for the apicultural industry is an evaluation of the quality of relevant sources of queens for replacing lost colonies. This project will also generate data on virus content of these queens, an underappreciated but potentially critical issue for beekeeping. In the longer term, outcomes from this research will guide honey bee breeding efforts to improve honey bee health by generated better stocks. Improved honey bee health in turn increases the sustainability and profitability of beekeeping.

How will research knowledge be transferred and shared with producers?

This research will produce virus profiling of queens that will translate into immediate guidance for producer purchasing decisions.

The comparative evaluation of different selection markers is also important for the growing group of breeders and beekeepers who select to breed their own queens. To transform significant discoveries and innovations into practical applications, this team will work with the Technology Transfer Services of the University of Alberta.

At the conclusion of the project, we will hold a special workshop with practical demonstrations of the phenotypic assays and presentations of our results for interested beekeepers and breeders. To reach wider audiences, researchers will present research project findings at annual meetings of other provincial beekeeping organizations, such as the British Columbia Honey Producers Association, the Saskatchewan Beekeepers Association, and the Manitoba Beekeepers Association.

Researchers will publish the results of this study in open-access peer-reviewed journals for the world-wide scientific community to further apicultural research and the sustainability of beekeeping.

Read the Press Release for this project.