Russian Stock – Results Are Promising

RUSSIAN STOCK-RESULTS ARE PROMISING

 

By François Petit – Pilgrim Honey House, Apple Hill, Ontario

2006

 

It has been 6 seasons since the Russian stock has been introduced into Canada. The stock has been distributed modestly across Canada in all provinces, with the exception of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. This article will attempt to give an assessment of the progress observed from 2002 to 2005.

The objects of the Russian Bee Project are as follows:

  • utilize the genetic material acquired by natural selection for resistance to Varroa found in Eastern Russia,
  • continue the selection needed to bring this stock to acceptable level of productivity,
  • distribute the stock to beekeepers and breeders across Canada, and
  • provide a long-term solution to the invasion of Varroa mites in honeybee population across Canada.

 

Summary of work so far

The stock was first imported to the University of Guelph, Ontario in 2000. It underwent extensive study by Geoff Wilson, under the supervision of Dr. Medhat Nasr. To maintain purity of stock, until 2002, it was bred in isolation on an island. Importation has continued every year since then. This study yielded important observations on their genetic traits including their ability to resist Varroa mites (Wilson et al. 2002).

In 2001, the stock began to be turned over to our commercial operation for further development, and distribution across Canada. We began in 2001 by establishing drone colonies, using eggs from the island breeder colonies. This gave us open mated Russian colonies, but the drones were pure Russian stock. These colonies would be used the following season for mating in an isolated area.

In 2002, the third importation occurred, and we requeened the majority of our production colonies with pure Russian queens. We also produced a number of 4-frame nucleis, both open and closed (pure) mated to be offered for sales the following spring 2003.   These nucs disappeared like hot cakes!

In 2003, we continued producing 4-frame nucleis, pure and open mated queens, for selection and distribution purposes. Another importation occurred. We now had 11 families (lines) in our hand to work with. We also began submitting the stock raised in 2002 with the Hygienic Test and the Quick-Test, for resistance to Varroa, brood diseases and Honey Bee Tracheal Mites.

This kind of breeding involves a lot of planning and attention to details. It takes 2 years to select a queen for breeding purposes. So, we had to wait until 2004 to be able to fully utilize the data from the 2002 queens that we collected in 2003.

In 2004, we again proceeded in our breeding and selection process, selecting the best queens we could find in our operation, both mothers and drone colonies. We were able to distribute open mated queens and nucleis to beekeepers across Canada. Testing was done again on another generation of pure Russian queens. For the first time, we were able to measure Honey Production for each pure colony.   Another importation was successfully completed, thanks to the Tech-Transfer Team of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, who organized everything each time. Another kind of test was performed at the end of the season.   The 24-Hour Mite Drop Test measures the size of the Varroa mite population in the colony at the end of the season. This allowed us to detect which colonies had a relatively low level of mites compared to the other colonies in the same apiary.

In 2005, we began to observe encouraging signs of improvement in overall colony behavior and strength. They came out of winter with larger clusters, they built up faster, and produced surplus honey with the dandelion flow. This year, we harvested our best honey crop since we began with the Russian stock in 2003.   Remember 2001 and 2002 were transition years and the honey surplus came from our previous Ontario stock.

The objective of this work was to gather a large gene pool to set up a closed population breeding program. The ultimate goal is to improve the stock in terms of resistance to both mites (Varroa and HTM), overall production of honey, and bees for pollination. In addition as this is believed to be related to hygienic traits, it will give the beekeeping community a long-term approach to managing for antibiotic-resistant AFB without sacrificing overall production.

The table below summarizes the progression of the project since it was transferred to Moose Creek, Eastern Ontario.

 

YEAR 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
IMPORTATION 4 families supplied by Guelph project 3 families +
2 families supplied by Guelph project
2 families 2 families 2 families
QUEEN REARING Established open mated drone colonies Converted our existing stock into closed mated
colonies
Next generation of daughters established Next generation of daughters established Next generation of daughters established
TESTS No test Hygienic Test Hygienic Test
Quick-Test
Hygienic Test
Quick-Test
24-Hour Mite Drop Test
Honey Production
Hygienic Test
Quick-Test
24-Hour Mite Drop Test
Honey Production
BREEDER COLONIES SELECTION No selection 7 Closed Mated
Untested
7 Closed Mated
Tested and Untested
5 Closed Mated
Tested
8 Closed Mated
Tested
DRONE COLONIES SELECTION No selection 8 Open mated
1 family
Untested
8 Closed mated
1 family
Untested
12 Closed & Open mated
Multi families
Tested
12 Closed & Open mated
Multi families
Tested
SALES No sales No sales Open queens
Open nucleis
Closed queens
Closed nucleis
Open queens
Open nucleis
Closed queens
Closed nucleis
Open queens
Open nucleis
Closed queens

 

Now, let us take a closer look at the test results. These include the Hygienic test, Quick-Test, the 24-Hour Mite Drop test, and Honey Production.

 

Hygienic Test

The Russian stock is highly hygienic. From the start, it exhibited strong hygienic behaviour in the test results. The graph below demonstrates this clearly. Most colonies tested are classified as Group 1 or 2. Group 1 being >75% uncapping and removal of dead larvae, Group 2 – 50% to 75% uncapping and removal, Group 3 – >25% to 50%, and Group 4   <25%. This was observed before our own selection had begun.   Over the years, we have maintained and improved this characteristic.

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Quick-Test

For the Quick-Test, it is a different story. The test results indicated some resistance, even on the first test, before selection for this trait; but the distribution of the trait was not prevalent.   In other words, we did not find that the majority of the colonies classified in Group 1 and 2, like the Hygienic Test. Instead, they were evenly distributed among all Groups, indicating that about half (50%) of the colonies possess this trait. Actually, this is good compared to the Ontario stock. When the local stock was first tested for tracheal mite resistance, it showed higher level of mites, and it took several generations to bring it to where it is today. The Russian stock was at this same level at the beginning of our program. The graph below demonstrates the different results we observed in this test over the last 3 years. Nonetheless, we need to continue selecting for this trait.

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The Quick-Test gives us two results called Prevalence and Abundance. The first indicates a percentage of the bees that were infected during the test, the second is the mean for the number of mites infecting each individual bee.   During the test, newly emerged bees (therefore not infected) are tagged and introduced in infected colonies with HTM.   About ten days later, the bees are retreived and analyzed to count the number of mites in the trachea.

image008

The 24-Hour Mite Drop Test when performed in September provides an indicator of the size of population of Varroa mites in the colony. This suggests that the colony is able to somehow prevent the growth in population of Varroa.   By surveying 25% or more of each apiary, we establish what we consider the Standardized Apiary Average. This apiary average was determined using random colonies in each apiary, whether they were open mated or closed mated.   However, only the pure Russian breeder colonies were tested for mite drop to compare to the mean of these random colonies. We always use strong colonies for this test, not newly established colonies with smaller population of bees and thus lower population of mites.

We can then compare the mite drop of each individual tested colony to this Standardized Apiary Average by calculating the difference. If the colony has fewer mites than the average, then it indicates a greater ability to resist Varroa. The 2 graphs below show the number of colonies in the positive range (more mites than the average), and the number of colonies in the negative (less mites than the average). You will notice that there are more colonies in the negative area, thus showing a skewed distribution of the ability to resist Varroa, i.e. most colonies indicate a good resistance to Varroa with only a few being ‘problem’ colonies.

image010

image012

My plan was not to treat for Varroa for the last 3 years (unless the level exceeded a predetermined level); in order to show the ability of this stock to survive on its own. This is why the Standardized Apiary Average of the mite drop is an order of magnitude higher (5.5 to 63) in 2005 than 2004. I wanted to see how much these colonies headed by pure Russian queens would compare to open mated colonies – Russian and Ontario. To me the fact that so many colonies show a negative difference is of tremendous value! I want to see this fact presented, so beekeepers across the nation might be aware of the potential of this stock, especially since there was a lot of research money invested in it.

Honey Production

In 2004, we measured honey production for all pure-bred colonies (closed mated) present at the time in our operation, mostly queens introduced in 2003.   In 2005, we measured honey production for all colonies with pure queens introduced in 2004. The results indicate an evenly distributed range from 0 to 176 pounds in 2004 with a mean of 83.5; and in 2005 a range of 0 to 328 pounds with a mean of 152.   This shows a need for more selection, to concentrate the genes responsible for higher honey production.   The 2005 results show an improvement over 2004 however, we cannot determine for sure that this is due to the season or better bee genetics, or a combination of both.

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Discussion

The test results discussed above show what may be a trend towards improvement over time of the Russian stock. It shows that this stock has the potential needed to become productive as well as resistant to mites and brood diseases. It has already proven itself productive in 2 commercial operations in Eastern Ontario who have utilized it widely for a few years now. Their report indicate overall satisfaction, productivity and good resistance to Varroa.

Next phase of breeding program

The next phase for our breeding program will begin in 2006, ending in 2008. This time, we will concentrate more on traits such as spring build-up, disinclination to swarming, gentleness, and honey production; all the while maintaining selection pressure on hygienic behaviour, resistance to Varroa and HTM, and other traits as well. In order to do so, we will pay more attention to fall treatments, making sure the level of Varroa is not allowed to reach damaging proportions, by following an Integrated Pest Management strategy, recommended by the Provincial Apiarist’s office in Guelph, Ontario. This way, we will have colonies with fewer mites, and we will better able to select for higher production traits. We will continue to produce queens, cells and nucleis for interested beekeepers, as well as queen be breeders. For more information, visit our website, write or call me; I’ll be happy to chat with you. Have a good and restful winter. God bless you all.

References

Wilson, G., M. Nasr, P. Kevan. 2002. Varroa Resistance and Economic Traits of Russian Honey Bees in Canada.   Hivelights 15 (5): 15-17