Our overarching aim is to promote healthy and sustainable honeybee populations through improved management and bee breeding.
Multiple stressors contribute to declining health of honeybees. Those stressors include introduced diseases and pesticides, yet tolerance to these stressors varies among populations. Selection for tolerance would offer a route to sustainable beekeeping that reduces reliance on chemical treatments, but genetic disease resistance factors first need to be identified.
Pathogens and pesticides may interact synergistically in unexpected ways to damage bee health. Such interactions are being researched at the level of the individual honeybee (work package 1) and the colony (work package 2). For example, we investigate whether chemicals used in either plant protection or beekeeping management may interact to increase susceptibility to bee diseases and promote disease outbreak. Our experimental results can inform changes to agricultural and beekeeping practices to prevent disease outbreak.
In addition, and with the honeybee genome in hand, we are also investigating which genes relevant to honey bee health are activated in response to these diverse stressors (work package 3) and, through a directed breeding design, which genes are responsible for disease resistance (work package 4). Together these two experimental approaches – the bottom-up molecular (work package 3) and the top-down population genetic (work package 4) – will identify candidate genes important for bee health, providing a rational basis for future selective bee breeding.
Our field studies of honeybee populations across the world that survive without the need for treatments or that are currently symptom-free (work package 6) allow identification of stressors affecting honeybee health. For example, some honeybee populations that we study are still free of a major exotic pest, Varroa destructor, whilst others are known to survive with Varroa mites.
The Prevention Department also investigates the prophylactic use of novel treatments (work package 7) for prevention of disease outbreak that are developed in the Treatment Department. It also uses methods developed in the Diagnostics Department, and will feed knowledge and tools into the Extension Department.