Under surveillance

honey bees

They are watching…

Alberta beekeepers have initiated a nation-wide program to monitor the health of Canadian bees. Even though Alberta has been largely untouched by heavy losses (so far), the Alberta Beekeepers Commission wants to stay ahead of potential disaster. Alberta beekeepers lost an average of 18% over this past winter (2013-2014). Tragically, Ontario beekeepers lost 58% of their colonies, according to a new CAPA publication you will find at this link. Beekeepers, according to the professional apiculturalists’ report, cited weather as the leading factor in winter losses this past year. The winter weather resulted in higher levels of starvation than normal. Secondary losses – as listed by the beekeepers managing the hives – were poor queens and nosema issues. Excluding the disaster in Ontario, the overall average for Canada was 19.2% of wintered hives lost. Beekeepers have already made splits and purchased packages and nucs to make up the losses – in fact, Canadian beekeepers are expected to operate more colonies in 2014 than they did in 2013.

The new Alberta-initiated surveillance project will yield real data about the prevalence of disease and pests across Canada. These numbers are needed to calibrate and understand what might cause bee deaths. This is part of the reason the Alberta beekeepers have begun this massive study. The work will be led by Dr. Carlos Castillo at the National Bee Diagnostic Centre in Beaverlodge, Alberta, and honey bees from all ten provinces will be sampled for common pests and diseases as well as exotic high-risk invaders. Some of this work has been done on a regional level, but never nation-wide. It will take four years to complete the project as currently designed. Important to the work will likely be factorial and statistical analysis that might collate the various factors that occur simultaneously in failing colonies. As this blog pointed out not long ago, combinations of factors very often outweigh the sum of individual problems affecting bees. In other words, a mild varroa infection or a mild nosema infection might be manageable individually, but when they strike together, the results could be bitterly painful. This sort of thing requires data, not speculation, to understand. The new nation-wide honey bee surveillance program is designed to gather that sort of data.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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