Genome British Columbia - Genome Genomics

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Next-generation integrated pest management tools for beekeeping



Project Leaders:
Leonard Foster and Stephen Pernal

Lead Institutions:
University of British Columbia and Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada

Research Funding Program:
Genome Canada 2010 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition

Project Website:  www.chibi.ubc.ca/faculty/foster/beeipm/home

Learn more about the science behind the project: https://vimeo.com/78602368

Honey bees not only provide us with a source of natural sweetness and warmth in the form of honey and wax but they are also crucial for the agriculture industry. Bees play a major role in agriculture as pollinators of many vegetable, nut, and fruit crops, with an estimated contribution of bees to Canadian agriculture exceeding $2.3 billion and to U.S. agriculture nearly $15 billion.

Worryingly, for the past four years North American beekeepers have lost approximately one third of their bees every year – roughly three times the historical average. These colony losses are largely attributed to bee-specific infectious diseases and even though some diseases can be controlled using chemical pesticides, many of the bacteria, viruses, fungi and mites responsible are finding ways to resist these. In addition, as the public becomes more conscious of what they eat, chemical residues in honey and on bee-pollinated crops are less accepted.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the combination of a variety of approaches to control and manage agricultural pests and/or diseases; it can include biological, physical, cultural, mechanical, behavioural and chemical controls. This project will develop new IPM tools and recommendations: 1) honey bee stock with natural disease resistance selected using molecular fingerprints, 2) treatments for bee diseases that should be absolutely specific for the pathogens, and 3) best-practices guidelines for IPM based on existing tools and the two new ones to be developed here. Biologists, beekeepers and economists will work together to design and evaluate these IPM practices, with the ultimate goal being to provide tools to beekeepers that will help to reverse the decline of the honey bee industry.

The successful implementation of the results of this project would result in at least $200 million in annual benefits to Canadian agriculture based on the expected decrease in colony losses, increased honey production and greater availability of bees for pollination. Consumers, crop growers and beekeepers will benefit from improved food security and healthier, more abundant, more effective pollinators.