Tuesday, October 4, 2022

National honey bee genetics program rolls on

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The Plan Bee breeding research colonies at NSW Department of Primary Industries’ Tocal College have been euthanised after falling under a varroa mite eradication zone.

Plan Bee (Australia’s national honey bee genetic improvement program), Media Release, 19 September 2022

Plan Bee, Australia’s national honey bee genetic improvement program has had its hives at Tocal Agricultural College euthanised as part of the all-of-industry response to the 2022 varroa mite incursion.

Prior to the hive euthanasia, selected highest value queen bees were removed securely and re-homed to ensure these genetics are banked for future breeding and research.  

This was allowed under a permit system in place to preserve queen bees that have a genetic high value as part of the National Varroa Mite Response Plan, independent of NSWDPI’s involvement in Plan Bee. Other commercial queen breeders under a varroa mite eradication zone are also able to access permits to conserve limited numbers of high value queen genetics.

Whilst the program team is disappointed to lose this population, NSW DPI Technical Specialist, Bees Elizabeth Frost said the team is buoyed by the resilience of the program which is a truly national program, with participating bee breeders scattered across the country.

“The need for this project to be a national project has underpinned its development from the start,” she said.

“As a result, and thanks to the support we have received from breeders across the country, we have queen relationships across Australia, with connections with breeders in all states.

“Whilst this is a disappointing setback, the program will continue and the genetic and production data we have generated so far lives on.”

Elizabeth says that the euthanasia of the hives at Tocal means that it is now more important than ever for bee breeders to support the national genetics program by collecting data on their own genetic lines and working with Plan Bee to collect and submit that data.

“The real strength of this national program comes from the diversity and volume of data we generate. Tocal may have been our biggest data producer, but we value each set of data from across the country and any significant data quantities we can enter into our national database is just as important as Tocal’s.”

Further, Elizabeth says that is evident now more than ever that genetic improvement is critical for the future of the honey bee industry.

“One of the key applications of genetic improvement is the ability to select for specific traits. One such trait is varroa tolerance.

“The more data we receive from breeders, the closer we can get to improving Australia’s honey bee stocks. This ensures our Aussie bee stocks are the best they can be before we need to breed for things like varroa tolerance.

“Improved management and genetic selection practices have the potential to shore up the health, productivity and security of our industry amidst the threat of varroa and other destructive pests.”

To keep up to date with the Plan Bee project, please subscribe to the mailing list via AgriFutures here: https://www.agrifutures.com.au/rural-industries/honey-bee-pollination/?subscribe=1

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