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ABRC at AAPA 2018

- May 1, 2018 - Elina L. Niño - (excerpt)

Elizabeth Walsh Student Scholarship Winner

While many of you are busy enjoying much celebrated national beekeeping conferences, chances are you might not have even been aware that another beneficial and thought-provoking conference is taking place at the same time and most likely in the same place. The American Association of Professional Apiculturists (AAPA) has organized the American Beekeeping Research Conference (ABRC) for the past several decades with January 2018 marking the 31st gathering. Over the two-day conference, a total of 55 oral presentations and 12 poster presentations were given, representing work done from over 30 different research groups located throughout the United States and Canada. This year, AAPA members met in conjunction with the American Beekeeping Federation Conference and Tradeshow, while in 2019 AAPA will be partnering with the American Honey Producers Convention and Tradeshow in Phoenix, AZ.

So what is AAPA and what do we do? AAPA was established by Malcolm Sanford, Eric Mussen and John Harbo following the founding of the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA). AAPA has three main goals:


Promote communication within and between industry, academia and the beekeeping community.

Develop and foster research on fundamental and applied questions to gain a greater understanding of bee biology in an aim to assist and improve the beekeeping industry.

Create a venue to rapidly share new techniques and current research to advance the field.


But perhaps one of the most noble endeavors of the association is promoting the junior and early career researchers through awards and scholarships and by providing a friendly platform for scientific discussion. This year’s winner of the AAPA Student Scholarship was Elizabeth Walsh from Juliana Rangel’s Laboratory at Texas A&M University. In 2018 we established additional awards: Postdoctoral travel award won by Kaira Wagoner from University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG) and an extension award won by Rachael Bonoan from Tufts University. In addition, there were three student presentation winners. Please make sure you pass the word of these opportunities to the deserving young researchers you know. You can learn more from our website

Many great contemporary apiculturists have served the association by providing insights on important beekeeping topics ranging from input on neonicotinoid effects on bees to putting forth a White Paper on Colony Collapse Disorder and Bee Health.1 The professional members strive to report on the most up-to-date research findings and their possible application for the industry (see Bee World volume 94, Issue 3).2 The next time when you are attending the ABF or AHPA conference consider stopping by ABRC; your registration for those conferences automatically grants you free access to ABRC. And just in case you were not able to join us this year, we bring you a brief synopsis of the research presented.

We kicked off the conference with a bit of a look into the future with Dr. Marla Spivak (University of Minnesota). Dr. Spivak asked the question: What would happen if we were to flip our perspective on bee health and consider the “super” to be half full instead of half empty? For example, instead of considering that there is 30-40% annual colony mortality we could look at it as having a 60-70% survival which would mean lots of stock with good breeding potential. Our wide ranging differences in treatment or no treatment approaches for colony management both have pluses and minuses that could be harnessed for improving honey bee health. For instance, while treatments for various maladies can help with herd immunity and ensure there is a sufficient supply for pollination, it might lead to propagation of susceptible bee stock. Dr. Spivak also discussed the idea and the need to revisit certain standards established in the industry such as the varroa mite thresholds. She spoke about the need for refining those to apply to different types of situations and particularly in light of our lack of understanding how viral infections may influence these thresholds. For example, more remote locations or smaller apiaries might be able to withstand higher mite pressure.

Dr. Spivak continued by discussing the need for furthering our understanding of the mechanisms of infested brood and varroa removal, including more general hygienic behavior in addition to varroa sensitive hygiene, as well as other traits, like grooming where bees remove varroa mites from other adult bees. This understanding would allow us to improve our breeding efforts to include multiple traits of resistance against pathogens and other maladies. She suggested we rethink what we know about microbiota of honey bees including pathogens and the way we deal with them. For example, why does treating a bacterial infection with antibiotics help control a Black queen cell virus (BQCV) infection? Dr. Spivak’s self-proclaimed wild speculation was dysbiosis where antibiotics kill off an opportunistic bacterium, allowing beneficial microbiota to control the virus. Lastly, Dr. Spivak reminded us that we should be working towards helping honey bees help themselves by providing them what they naturally utilize such as propolis and other naturally occurring phytochemicals in nectar and pollen. It would be wise of us to keep moving forward by looking for novel ways to be better researchers and better beekeepers and improve bee health by promoting these natural defenses.

This was a nice segue into the remainder of the session where speakers discussed a range of topics including varroa mite physiology and behavior, viral resistance and even how ants can be involved in viral transmission to honey bees. Shilpi Bahtia (University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Rueppell Lab) presented her efforts in identifying colonies with resistance to specifically Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV), once thought to be correlated with CCD. She was able to identify some colonies exhibiting desirable viral resistance characteristics. However, these are only the first steps in starting a breeding program and additional efforts will be discussed.

A real crowd pleaser was the presentation by Samuel Ramsey (University of MD, vanEnglesdorp Lab). You might have heard about his very cool and ground breaking research challenging a long-standing idea that varroa mites feed on hemolymph of the bees and further questioned the assumption of whether the mites actually feed on adults. Well, as it turns out the female mites are indeed going after the fat of the honey bees (Burnham, 2018),3 which means that varroa mites are not actually “phoretic” when on adults because a phoretic phase would mean the mites are just waiting around on the adult bees until they find another suitable larval cell to infest. Because the mites are actually feeding on adult honey bees too, this prompted Ramsey and the team to propose a change in terminology from phoretic to dispersal phase. These findings can prove to be a game changer in the combat against varroa and may likely influence the way we think about and develop new miticides.

The following session discussed nutritional needs of the honey bees. Topics ranged from evaluating pollinator communities in different habitats such as turfgrass and prairies to determining honey bee pollen foraging preferences. While not directly related to honey bee nutrition, the most curious talk of the session was certainly a discussion of how we could harness the drone brood removal not only for varroa mite management but also for human consumption. Bridget Gross (Ohio State University, Reed Johnson Lab) gave a compelling argument for using this highly protenaceous snack as a part of our every-day diet while potentially making some additional income. Hey, no need to be grossed out – I hear drones taste like almonds.

AAPA often meets with our counterparts to the North – CAPA, but on the years we don’t organize joint meetings we are very grateful to have CAPA members share their research updates. This year Dr. Stephen Pernal shared with us the results of the Canadian Honey Bee Health Survey. From 2014-2017, 944 samples were included with most coming from Alberta. Data provided insight into Nosema species composition with the majority of the positive samples across the board presenting ….