B.C. beekeepers are hoping research on the genome of the honeybee that is being done by a University of B.C. team will help reverse a dangerous decline in the bee population.
For at least the last five years, North American beekeepers have lost an average of 30 per cent of their hives annually, mostly because of infectious diseases.
As the primary insect that farmers depend on for the pollination of commercial crops, the honeybee’s decline is viewed as the agricultural equivalent of the canary in the coal mine. from B.C’s blueberry crops and tree fruit industry to the canola fields of Alberta, western Canadian crops are at risk if bee populations continue their downward spiral.
This weekend more than 150 beekeepers will gather in Richmond for a B.C. Honey Producers Association conference to learn about new research and bee husbandry that may help arrest that decline.
Some of the research is being done by a team led by Leonard Foster, a molecular biologist at UBC who is trying to develop bees with a genetic resistance to some viruses and diseases. He’s also developing tools to help bee breeders genetically select for characteristics that help reduce infestations of a parasitic mite that has caused widespread damage in the industry.
“Beekeepers in Canada and the U.S. have lost 30 per cent of their colonies every winter to a variety of causes but mostly to infectious diseases. Ultimately what we want to do is reverse that trend,” said Foster, whose lab at UBC specializes in bees and their health issues, his lifelong interest. “We want to do that by giving beekeepers new tools to protect the bees or fight off the infectious diseases.”
Some regions such as Vancouver Island have experienced up to 90 per cent mortality in their bee colonies, Foster said.
Part of the problem is that in recent years bee pests have developed resistance to traditional chemical treatment methods. the solution, Foster said, appears to be in finding new ways to select for bees that can naturally resist the diseases, or to develop vaccines.
The stakes are high: the value of pollination to agriculture is estimated to be $2.5 billion in Canada and at least $15 billion in the U.S.
Foster said three serious pests are threatening the worldwide stability of the honeybee population; a tiny bloodsucking mite called Varroa destructor and two viral diseases, nosema and American foul brood.
Varroa, a South Asian pest, has become a worldwide problem for beekeepers because it can very quickly overpower a hive and kill its hosts. Nosema and AFB are intestinal and brood diseases.
firstname.lastname@example.org vancouversun.com/jefflee twitter.com/sunciviclee With files from Randy Shore
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