Friday, September 18, 2009

From Apimondia in Montpellier, France

I finally got a respite to post information to this blog about the 41st edition of Apimondia. I got Montpellier three days ago, after a visit to Paris, Avignon and San Remy de Provence. The pre-registration here is rumored to be 3,000; most don't think attendance will reach much higher than that although I don't have access to official information on attendance. Several themes of the congress are apparent; one is the colony losses around the world that have been reported ever since the CCD situation in the U.S. reared its head. The European Union has mounted a big project called COST network COLOSS and participants, including U.S. researchers, attended an event before the Congress will be attending several meetings in the future on this situation. The U.S. is not the only area where losses are unacceptably high it seems.

As part of the colony loss situation, there is an emphasis on bee health during the sessions at both bee biology and and bee health sessions. One problem is that measurement of colony losses is not uniform. A questionnaire is being circulated about perceptions of losses in various countries, but there is no objective measurement of this at the moment. This will a major goal of the COLOSS project.

The two most important areas of advances in bee science reported here are those associated with genetic studies (the role of genetic diversity and mapping) and those studies associated with the honey bee brain. Bees are no longer considered "dumb robots"; they can learn and have innate intelligence as well as cooperative thinking. One presentation was entitled "How can honey bees learn from robots?" A whole lot it seems. Another suggested that aging in the brain could be reversed in honey bees by artificially reverting them from aged foragers to younger nurse bees.

Describing the genome has led to many new possibilities in studying bee health. Chips arrayed with various genetic combination are becoming more and more available and mapping the genes for Varroa tolerance and disease resistance is a rapidly developing field. The evolution of honey bees has been revolutionized; it is now thought to be an African root, not an Asian one where the other Apis species are located. Loss of diversity in some places where Varroa has taken out much of the wild population is made up for in areas where diversity has and continues to be maintained. There is much concern about conserving wild ecotypes as human beekeeping and bee movement seeks to globalize the population. Many selection programs do not take into account ecotype, color or other traditional measures; instead honey production, Varroa tolerance and disease resistance are the goals.

As is the case for the past two Apimondias, the number of papers on the biology and treatment of Varroa is greatly reduced. Instead there are increasing numbers of study on Varroa-tolerant populations and breeding programs taking advantage of this trait(s). Perhaps the most colorful speaker on this subject is Dr. John Kefuss, who addressed the American Beekeeping Federation, a few years ago on his "Bond" test results in France, where he has produced a population of bees not needing treatment in some cases for 5 years. He has an open invitation to visit him in Tolouse and he will pay one cent for every Varroa mite discovered in his colonies; the record so far as I recall is a Spanish beekeeper (researcher?) who found a grand total of 9. Over a decade ago, he predicted that there would be 30 genes associated with Varroa tolerance; the actual number found so far is 37. He says that soon Varroa will be relegated to the sidelines as is the Tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi) at the present time. This was echoed by Yves Le Conte of the Avignon INRA lab during his presentation, where he has also followed colonies that require no treatment since 1992.

I have received notice that more discussion might be needed with reference to Dr. Kefuss' work described above and he kindly sent me an update:

Dear Malcom,
At the Apimondia congress in Lausanne we put forward the hypothesis that hygienic behavior is probably controlled by at least 30 genes but as we pointed out we did not have the hard data to back it up. We drew these conclusions because when we test for hygienic behavior we usually do not get curves following a normal bell shaped distribution. A good example is the data from Chile published on page 58 of the January 2010 American Bee Journal. Here there appear to be 3 peaks. However depending upon the width of the bars that you choose for your graph you will modify the number of peaks that can be observed. So I will still stand by our hypothesis that hygienic behavior is probably controlled by at least 30 genes. Whether these genes could be associated with varroa resistance mechanisms I don't know ( have to find them first, then test). I also stand by my statement to you in Montpellier that within the next 50 years ( which is soon by biological standards ) we will probably not be talking much about varroa mites.
It was Cedric Alaux et al. from Avignon who gave the talk just before mine that stated that there were 37 genes that "are potential candidates for the behavioral tolerance.... to destructive mites". He compared VSH+ and VSH- bees and found that 37 genes were differently expressed. More detailed information can be found on the Apimondia website where all the abstracts are published.
I am also of the opinion that no genes have been proven to directly affect resistance to varroa. That requires controlled testing in the bee yard. You know that there is a very good positive correlation between the number of preachers and drunks. But that does not mean because you have more preachers this causes you to have more drunks.
The World Varroa Challenge went very well. The winner Clive de Bruyn from England found 20 varroa in about 2 hours time. He had a neck to neck battle with Seith Rick from California who found 17 during the same period. They were under real stress. We had piles of dead bodies (pupae) laying on lids all over the bee yard. I had budgeted 100 cents for the Challenge but I ran over by 7 cents because the 50+ visitors found a total 107 varroa. However I am not going to cry over the 7 cents. Slave labor to do the testing would have been a lot more expensive and less efficient.
Best wishes for 2010

Yours truly,

Ps. You can cite my comments in your blog if you wish.

Dr. John A. Kefuss
49 RUE JONAS PHONE (33)561578715

Somewhat behind the scenes, the politics of Apimonida is also changing: Gilles Ratia, current president of the Economy Commission, has been elected President as Asger Jorgensen is stepping down. Mr. Ratia plans to open up Apimondia more by instituting commissions from Oceania, Africa and the Americas. The organization will also be involved in a number of meetings around the world before the next world event to be held in Buenos Aires in 2011. There is a lively competition for the congress after that. Most in evidence are the Ukrainians, who officially came out in Melbourne winning many prizes and having one of their own crowned honey queen; they have brought along a musical and dance ensemble, and are lobbying heavily for the meeting to be in Kiev. Others in the running include Spain (Granada), Italy (Verona), Hungary (Budapest), Bulgaria (Sofia), Turkey (Istanbul)and Slovenia. Brazil waits in the wings for the next congress in the Americas and will host an IberoAmerican Congress in Natal next October.

Another exotic pest has come to the honey bee world, beginning in France but could be introduced elsewhere. This is the oriental hornet, Vespa velutina, which has devastated hives in some parts of the country, but not in all. The French are learning from colleagues in the middle east like Jordan and Israel challenged by Vespa orientalis ways to confront this invader. The sizes of the nests on display here are pretty impressive, reaching two or three times those of the bald faced hornet seen in the U.S.

Besides sessions from the regular commissions including Economy, Biology, Bee Health, Pollination, Technology and Quality, Apitherapy and Rural Development, the 41st Congress also includes four round table discussions, two on pesticides (the effects of neonicotinoids like imidacloprid and others (e.g. fipronel), as well as the effects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)and the role of veterinarians in beekeeping regulation and education of beekeepers. A big difference between the U.S. and the rest of the beekeeping world is that veterinarians are not involved in bee health in the former, but are very much so in most of the rest of the world. A fourth round table is on the use of honey bees as so-called "sentinels of the environment, which is the official theme of this year's Congress.

The Montpellier event is also perhaps the first Apimondia that has an official outreach to the general public. Thus, at the entrance to the meeting at Le Corum, an array of tents has been erected including a good many displays from environmental groups such as Greenpeace. In addition, each day there is children's program, including things like movies and actors on stilts.

The Congress goes on two more days; the last (Sunday) to be an excursion to a nearby region. It will include visits to apiaries and tourist sites. I hope to be able to post something else before I leave, but am not optimistic since I am finding
little time to do so and am experiencing intermittent computer problems.

1 comment:

Richard Martyniak said...

Hi Malcolm,

Interesting post, thanks.

If you get a chance, please mention to folks over there, the fipronil-based yellow jacket baits that Mike Rust from UC is working on. While they are protein based & presumably not directly harmful to honey bees, our concern is transfer from sugar foraging Yellow Jackets to sugar foraging Honey Bees via flowers and other shared sources. Fipronil is highly toxic to Hymenoptera and spreads very easily between individuals. Something to ponder at any rate.