Dr Eric Erickson did a great job in the 1990’s in Arizona together with A.H. Atmowidjojo and Lenard Hines (commercial beekeeper with 700 colonies), first showing it’s relatively easy to identify more resistant bees and to maintain and develop a more resistant stock of bees without regular use of miticides.
In American Bee Journal, vol 138, no 11, 1998, they published their first article on this subject Can We Produce Varroa-Tolerant Honey Bees in the United States? The second article in ABJ, vol 139, no 12, 1999, Varroa-Tolerant Honey Bees Are a Reality. The third in ABJ, vol 140, no 8, 2000, with a headline like the one for this post.
In 2003 I visited Erickson and Hines together with Norwegian beekeeper Hans-Otto Johnsen. Erickson had retired. Hines were still working his bees but were significantly older than Erickson. At the Tucson lab they were focusing on an IPM-strategy against Varroa trying to identify natural compounds to be used as miticides.
Since then I have never heard anything about the work mentioned here. Why?
Though monitoring mite levels with alcohol wash identifying when to treat or removing a colony from an apiary which is used developing Varroa resistance is a method used frequently is such works, but not done the same way as Erickson, as far as I can understand. Yes, there are a growing number of beekeepers developing mite resistant bees. And there are other scientists, more than at the Louisiana lab? (thanks for those), that have been engaged, and are, in developing resistant bees (VSH and Russians). But have everyone forgotten about Erickson or why is his work ignored, or is it? Because there are Africanized bees in Arizona? Why would that be a reason for ignoring his work? Give a reason!
Now, his work included 733 samples, representing 118,512 bees washed and counted to determine Varroa infestation levels. Number of colonies in the three isolated test apiaries ranged in total between 36 and 71, lowest in early winter and highest in late spring following replacement of winter losses. Varroa levels were ranging between 0 and 50 per hundred bees, samples taken every second month. In average 7. The mite genotype was the ’Russian’ type said to be more virulant than the ’Japanese’ type.
All colonies were established in November 1995 and no colonies had been treated for at least 12 months at that time. When infestation rate was above 15 per 100 bees the colony was removed from the study and replaced by a colony with a daughter from one of the best colonies. Those were mated in the center apiary. Hines shifted queens in all his colonies to ’program’ queens. They maintained the program population from Nov 1994 to at least July 1999. First sampling for Varroa levels in 1995. 1998 was a good year and the three test apiaries averaged 90 pounds (40 kg) of honey per colony, which is a good crop in Arizona.
Hines said that after requeening with program queens in his entire operation he saw much less problems created by mites and in 1999 very little to zero indication of Varroa damage.
Concerning Africanization of the bees in Arizona the lab during two years studied nearly pure Africanized colonies in isolation and it found them to not be any less susceptible than the colonies in the selective breeding program. The earliest sources for the breeding program of more Varroa resistant bees were identified before the arrival of Africanized honey bees (AHB) to Arizona. They even found that a considerable number of AHB succumbed with Varroa damage appearing to be a major cause.
In 1999 the program stock of bees consisted of colonies of both European and African descent and their hybrids. Lenard Hines continued to eliminate from the breeding program any queen whose progeny tended to be overly defensive, without regard for their ancestry.
When we visited Erickson and Hines in 2003 the colonies were worked with normal amount of smoke and no gloves. No cloud of bees was around us and it was no problem having a chat after checking the colonies, without hat and veil.
Erickson wrote that the lab was then in 1999 working to complete a three-step program to help beekeepers implement the results from this selection work into their own operation. The three-step program consisted of 1) this selection method they used, 2) using brood combs with smaller cell diameters as a management strategy to further reduce Varroa infestations, and 3) the use of natural products as miticides in an IPM-strategy to faciliate transitions from pesticide-based mite control to Varroa resistant populations. Such transitions are encouraged to be made in an area with a plan to expand the area.
You can today maybe see parts of this three step program here and there, but nowhere have I seen it described after the articles of Erickson in ABJ, why not? Has no one tried to get beekeepers to cooperate for this purpose? Is someone willing to fund such an effort, for example helping with federal/state/EU-money to breed queens and count mites and forming a coach group for beekeepers that want to decrease the use of chemicals and increase health and survival of their bees?