National honey bee genetics program rolls on I Australian Rural & Regional News

Plan Bee’s breeding research colonies at Tocal College, NSW Department of Primary Industries have been euthanized after falling into a varroa mite eradication zone.

Plan Bee (Australia’s national honey bee genetic improvement programme), media release, 19 September 2022

Plan Bee, Australia’s national genetic improvement program for honey bees, has euthanized its hives at Tocal Agricultural College as part of the industry-wide response to the 2022 Varroa mite incursion.

Prior to hive euthanasia, selected highest value queen bees were safely removed and rehoused to ensure that these genetics are preserved for future breeding and research.

This was allowed under an existing permitting scheme to maintain genetically high value queen bees as part of the National Varroa Mite Response Plan, separate from NSWDPI’s involvement in Plan Bee. Other commercial queen breeders in a Varroa mite eradication zone can also access permits to obtain a limited number of high quality queen genetics.

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While the program team is disappointed to be losing this population, NSW DPI Technical Specialist, Bees Elizabeth Frost said the team is encouraged by the resilience of the program, which is a truly national program with participating beekeepers scattered across the country .

“The need for this project to be a national project has underpinned its development from the start,” she said.

“As a result, and thanks to the support we’ve received from breeders across the country, we have relationships with queens across Australia, with connections to breeders in every state.

“While this is a disappointing setback, the program continues and the genetic and production data we have generated to date lives on.”

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Elizabeth says the euthanasia of the hives at Tocal means it is now more important than ever for beekeepers to support the national genetics program by collecting data on their own genetic lines and working with Plan Bee to collect and submit that data .

“The real strength of this national program lies in the diversity and scope of the data we generate. Tocal may have been our largest data producer, but we value every record from across the country and any significant amount of data that we can enter into our national database is just as important as Tocal’s.”

Additionally, Elizabeth says it is now clearer than ever that genetic improvement is critical to the future of the honey bee industry.

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“One of the most important applications of genetic improvement is the ability to select for specific traits. One of these traits is Varroa tolerance.

“The more data we get from breeders, the closer we get to improving Australian honey bee populations. This ensures our Australian bee populations are as good as they can be before we have to breed for things like Varroa tolerance.

“Improved management and genetic selection practices have the potential to strengthen the health, productivity and safety of our industry amid the threat of varroa and other destructive pests.”

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