The sessions on the last day of the Bee Biology Commission concerned the overall theme of conserving populations of honey bees. The effect of genetic sequencing, combined with other methods using microsatellites and morphometrics, are providing a good deal of in-depth information about bee stocks. Papers in this session included a multivariate morphological analysis of Chinese bees, the first time a native Apis mellifera has been reported in the country. The genetic variablility in Bulgarian bees, Syrian populations (Apis mellifera syriaca), as well as Turkish honey bees was described. It appears that native ecotypes are holding their own in the face of organized beekeeping efforts in some areas, but the fear is that the potential exists for genetic "pollution" in many regions via migratory beekeeping.
A paper on bee "livestock" found in France described a study of 5247 colonies in 52 separate areas. This reveals that French populations are divided into three main regions, Corsica, Southern, and Northern, but with a fairly low level of population differentiation. The results of a study of a certain ecotype (Landes region of southwest France)using a multi-tiered screening process of both morphological and genetic information indicate that these might be effectively correlated to selecting for certain behaviors. These could be used on a quantitative basis to help the conservation of certain stocks.
The case study of the conservation of Laeso native honey bee stock in Denmark was an eye-opener. After a number of court cases, the small island of Laeso was basically divided into two areas, native black bees on one end, and a hybridized population with Italians and other races on the other. The results showed that most of 583 colonies on the island were relatively hybridized in 2005 (only 50 colonies contained less than 10% non mellifera genes), but by 2007 a population of 123 colonies with less than 1% emerged while 273 colonies were below 10%. It is possible it seems for stocks to be conserved, if everyone agrees with the goal, and a concrete, clear border is established, even on a small island.
Queen rearing technologies are also being developed. A paper using embryo transfer to introduce stocks with a minimum of risk revealed that this was a reliable procedure. Over 90% of transferred larvae developed normally, were able to be instrumentally inseminated and subsequently laid eggs. A Romanian paper described a database being used to calculate selection indices. The software is available over the internet, but not currently in the English language.
A discussion of the French National Breeders Association, ANERCA, revealed that it was created in 1979, has about 250 members, and as of 2004 has had one professional staff member, who edits the magazine called "Info-Reines." The latest edition of the magazine was distributed and contains articles about selecting bees for pollen collection, originally written by Dr. Robert Page, Emeritus Professor at the University of California, Davis.
A survey by ANERCA shows that beekeepers in France requeen 43% of their colonies each year, mostly by dividing and introducing cells. Most breeders sell 100 to 200 "queen equivalents," generally Buckfast, Black, Caucasian and Carniolan stock. It appears the market is growing for queens and there is more interest in the activity each year. ANERCA runs a number of classes for queen rearing around the country.
ANERCA hosted a bee breeders meeting attended by about 30 people in Montpellier. The event revealed that a good many bee breeding and conservation activities exist, but there is little coordination and no communication among the groups. The outcome of the meeting is an attempt to collect names and addresses of breeding programs and activities into a directory. Many of the activities of ANERCA and other breeding programs as described in both poster and oral sessions are in line with the goals of the Global Bee Breeders Association.
The 41st Apimondia closed with an emotional ceremony. In the most anticipated event of the evening, the voting delegates chose Ukraine to host the 2013 meeting in Kiev. The presidential mantel was officially passed from Asger Jorgensen to Gilles Ratia. In his farewell address, Mr. Jorgensen said that in the 10 years of his presidency, Apimondia had gained great stature, shown by the unprecedented number of scientists presenting their work at congresses. He implored Mr. Ratia to treat Apimondia gently in the future. Finally, Argentina took up the challenge of hosting the 42nd congress in Argentina in two years to the whirl of tango dancers on stage, accompanied by guitar and bandoneon.
Traditionally, a day of touring follows the closing ceremony. I was a member of four bus loads headed towards the northern reaches of the region (Languedoc Roussillon) to visit an apiary and castle near Mt. Lozere and the town of Ville Fort. The operation was typical of the region; a second generation beekeeper running 1200 hives in the mountains, ranging from 500 to 1400 meters in elevation. The main crops here are chestnut (chatanier) and two kinds of heather (white and blue. The extraction equipment featured plastic vibrating plugs that are needed to get the thixotropic heather honey moving out of the comb. This was combined with hot rooms used to store the supers before extracting in the mountainous, cool climate. The few bees we saw and those on display in the video of the beekeeper's operation were large and dark, almost silky in appearance, no doubt a form of Apis mellifera mellifera, but bigger than others I have seen.
After visiting the apiary, an informal lunch was provided in a restaurant loaned by the owner to his beekeeper friend for the occasion. After an aperitif of various alcoholic beverages and French "pizza," a generous supply of different meats and cheeses were provided, along with the usual red table wine.
Lunch was followed by a tour to La Garde Guerin <http://la.garde48.free.fr/>, a 12th century castle that for centuries guarded the only pass in the region between the north and the south. Clouds built up over the highlands and a drizzle began just before we got back on the bus. The trip back to Montpellier officially closed Apimondia 41.