The objective of EEA and Norway Grants Fund for regional cooperation project »Joint Effort for Honey Bee Conservation and Selection – BeeConSel« is to use scientifically proven tools and adapt the knowledge and experience of the donor (NO) and expert partner (SE) to establish tailor-made effective mating control systems for the project beneficiaries. This will be done through a process of screening of resources and experiences of the project partners.
Honey bees have been challenged with severe changes in their natural environment due to monocultures, use of chemicals in agriculture, climate change, urbanisation and pollution. This pressure exhibits itself in the form of lower disease tolerance, altered behaviour and colony loss, affecting both beekeepers and reducing the bee’s effectiveness as pollinators. Beekeepers compensate for colony losses by introducing new colonies, packaged bees and swarms. The queens are of unproven quality and/or pedigree and are often replaced by separately purchased queens. This market issue usually forces beekeepers to purchase non-native queens from suppliers outside their regions. Consequently, uncontrolled hybridisation of local subspecies occurs, with genetic erosion being one of the main consequences. This is a concern, especially because local subspecies of honey bees have higher survival ability than introduced subspecies in the same environment. Thus, imported queens, together with maladapted beekeeping practices, contribute to the reduction of colony performance and vitality, both in economical and ecological terms.
Honey bee breeding programs aimed at protecting subspecies have been established in the last decades in the EU. The main bottleneck of all efforts is mating control. Honey bee queens naturally mate in zones known as drone congregation areas. Without controlled mating, beekeepers cannot limit genetic erosion. Some countries have been able to establish mating control systems however the project beneficiaries of this proposal have not yet managed to do so.
By building on the assessment of situation and knowledge transfer from donor/expert we will adjust selected approaches to local environments of beneficiaries and the broader region. To achieve a reduction of adverse effects of human activities due to beekeeping, we will focus on honey bee mating control. Mating control is important from two aspects, conservation, and selection as an alternative to chemical control of parasites like Varroa destructor.
We will test and evaluate practicality of several selected principles within local milieu. Next, we will collect the results (queens, drones, sires and dames of queens) for molecular analysis and model the development of the expected progress using one or the other method.
There will be two approach angles to disseminate the results and relay the importance of mating control embedment into breeding programs:
Direct addressing of the target groups via meetings, workshops, and media
Creation of follower group, which will consist of interested parties in neighbouring countries and will be invited to workshops and meetings.
Through these two approaches, we wish to keep genetic diversity at maximum and prevent inbreeding. We wish to encourage local beekeepers/ lawmakers in beneficiary countries to support the establishment of mating control within breeding programs to make locally bred queens more attractive to beekeepers
The major output of the project will be self-sustainable mating control for honey bees for breeding purposes in all beneficiary countries for their respective subspecies. The use of the system will be available for all interested stakeholders, including queen breeders and beekeepers. This will increase the efficiency of breeding programmes in the selection for traits such as disease tolerance, behaviour and honey yield, parameters which ensure higher survival rate of the local honey bees, improve their viability and ultimately add value to their ecosystem services.
In addition, the improvement of the local stock will lead to their recognition and acceptance by local beekeepers, the most sustainable way for the conservation of local populations. The project will also contribute to building professional relationships among project partners by linking researchers’ and beekeepers’ networks.