Tjeerd Blacquiere has been a beekeeper for 30 years, in honeybee research since 2001. He has been involved in neonicotinoid research, but now focuses on naturally acquired resistance of bees to varroa.
Abstracts for Parallel Sessions:
Natural Selection (Day 1)
There is consensus that the ubiquitous ecto-parasitic mite Varroa destructor, is the main biological threat to global apiculture. It has also almost completely wiped out wild European honey bee, Apis mellifera, populations. The only remedy for apiculture to date is frequent control measures against the mite throughout the season, which however blocks possible genetic adaptation.
So far targeted breeding efforts have not achieved tolerant or resistant bees, but natural selection has been successful at least six times. Natural selection can be applied in an apicultural setting. This approach being used for 10 years has shown to result in grosso modo ‘normal’ colonies with a high level of resistance to varroa.
Based on these results we now propose to naturally select for resistance to varroa by stopping treatment of the varroa mite in managed colonies and using a few methodological preconditions which help to avoid unacceptable outcomes for apiculture. Such natural selection can be performed on a local scale by local beekeepers, with their own local bees, and may strongly benefit from and contribute to local adaptation. Having started with new colonies in 2018 on two locations in Europe we call for groups willing to join our initiative on their locations.
Wild Bees, Bees in Trees, Re-wilding (Day 2)
Honey bees can thrive in nature if ‘Bed & Breakfast’ are warranted: enough nesting sites of correct size (trees with cavities), and sufficient food (nectar and pollen) to support colonies during the whole year. Then in addition they need to be sufficiently resilient to a variety of challenges and stresses.
Honey bees are an endemic wild species in (Western) Europe, nevertheless there are only very few feral populations of colonies, partly because there is a lack of nest sites. Since the presence of Varroa destructor most of the then remaining feral populations have succumbed. Because beekeepers treat colonies against the mites, no selection for resistance can take place. Therefore, learning about Arnot forest, Avignon and Gotland, we allowed natural selection against Varroa to take place in a beekeepers setting since 2007, taking care to stay remote from ‘regular’ beekeeping. Now that nature has provided us by natural selection with rather Varroa resistant honeybee populations, why not give back to nature what we received? From this year onward we will start to re-introduce honey bee colonies into the wild from our (locally derived) Varroa resistant stock:
We choose two locations in the Netherlands, with trees and with enough forage, and satisfactory remote from ‘regular’ beekeepers
We place “Seeley Swarm Boxes” at sufficient height in the trees in autumn 2018 (20 per site)
We place 10 colonies of the selected populations per site in early spring 2019, and allow them to swarm. We hope the swarms will occupy many of our nest boxes
We repeat the placing of colonies for swarming in spring 2020
Dr Tjeerd Blacquiere
Wageningen Plant Research