Update of the Apiculture Program at NCSU
The Apiculture Program at NC State has three core missions: Extension, providing information, advice, and other outreach services to help beekeepers at all levels; Research, using the scientific method to test hypotheses about honey bee biology and ways to help improve bee management; and Instruction, teaching and disseminating knowledge about honey bees and apiculture through formal classes and academic training. This past year has involved a great deal of activity in the program in each of these areas.
There have been numerous extension activities within the past year. Program members have provided 59 presentations to regional, state, and local beekeeping organizations, including 23 workshops or beekeeping field days. We have also published seven new or updated extension articles in the last year, including a three-part series on the Africanized honey bee and a comprehensive overview of stinging insects that often get mistaken for honey bees (darn those yellow jackets!). These are in addition to the monthly online publications that review recent scientific research on honey bees and bee management, as well as other materials that have been posted on our web site. We have also been featured in 29 media stories in the last year, including USA Today and Live Science magazine.
Moreover, the Master Beekeeper Program (MBP) now has a total of 4,493 members join since its inception in 1982; 2,592 have been active within the past 10 years. During the last year, there have been 607 MBP participants who have progressed within the program, 490 of whom are new members. These numbers are at all-time highs, greatly eclipsing the 95 new participants that started 10 years ago. Congratulations to all the local chapters and bee schools for your support of the program and your hard work! We continue to implement numerous logistical changes to the program in an attempt to improve its delivery and integrity. Importantly, personnel changes in the Entomology Department at NC State has resulted in Jean Carter, our Extension Administrative Support Associate, to handle the database and mailings for the MBP, and she has done an outstanding job in doing so.
We have also been actively involved in our research program. Last year, we published five peer-reviewed scientific papers and were authors on 14 scientific presentations. We are completing a three-year project in collaboration with Dr. Christina Grozinger's program at NC State studying the molecular mechanisms of mating by queen honey bees. We are using state-of-the-art genetic tools to determine which genes get turned on or off in queen bees as a result of mating. Findings from this project will help us answer some very deep and important questions about how queens mate and why they are successful, which may provide valuable insights into ways to improve their insemination success.
This research dovetails very nicely with another research project, also funded by a USDA grant, to survey the "mating health" of commercially produced queens in the U.S. There is both anecdotal and empirical evidence to suggest that many queens produced in the U.S. may not be adequately mated. We will test a representative population of queen bees purchased from commercial queen producers for several factors. First, we will determine their physical health by measuring numerous morphological characteristics that are indicative of their reproductive quality. Second, we will test their insemination success by performing sperm counts on the contents of their spermathecae (their sperm storage organs). Third, we will determine their mating numbers by performing genetic paternity analyses on their offspring, enabling us to very accurately quantify the number of drones with whom the queens have mated. Finally, we will determine the relationship between queen reproductive quality and certain aspects of management practices in the various operations. These findings will be important to beekeepers by describing what they should expect when they purchase honey bee queens from commercial bee breeders. The findings will also point toward best management practices that will help improve the mating health of honey bee queens within the industry.
One of the more significant—and challenging—lines of research has been on Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. Our contribution to the CCD Working Group is to analyze a common set of CCD samples for the protein content of the bees (as a proxy of their nutritional stress during development) and the genetic origin of the bees (using established racial-screening analyses). We have found that neither play a major role in predicting the onset of CCD, which has enabled us to concentrate our collective research efforts on other potential factors (such as novel pathogens, including the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus). We are also analyzing a separate set of CCD samples for their potential lack of genetic diversity, since our previous work has demonstrated that decreased genetic diversity within the colonies may make them more vulnerable to disease.
Finally, we have continued the tradition of teaching ENT 203, the introductory non-majors course titled "An Introduction to the Honey Bee and Beekeeping". With an enrollment of 185 students last fall semester, the course concentrated on various aspects of honey bee biology, management, and their impact on society (including honey bees in art, literature, mythology, and popular culture). Dr. Ambrose, who taught the course for over 30 years, continues to offer a Distance Education (DE) version of the course as well.
All in all, it has been a productive year, and we hope to continue our positive momentum into the future.