‘Bee Informed’ to inform beekeepers

Date posted: May 17, 2011

Picture of honeybees

Media Contact: Dr. David Tarpy, associate professor of entomology and N.C. Cooperative Extension apiculturist, 919.515.1660 of david_tarpy@ncsu.edu

North Carolina State University will play a central role in a 5-year, $5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture effort to compile a nationwide honey bee database designed to make beekeepers more productive.

Dr. David Tarpy, associate professor of entomology and North Carolina Cooperative Extension apiculturist in N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, will direct the North Carolina part of an effort that has been dubbed the Bee Informed Partnership.

The partnership is an effort “to fill a void at the national level in our ability to collect data and information about the managed honey bee population,” Tarpy said. The nationwide effort, which is being led by Penn State University, will involve entomologists around the country.

Tarpy explained that surprisingly little is known about the nation’s honey bees, which play an indispensible role in pollinating many crops.

“Honey bees tend to fall between the cracks,” Tarpy explained. “If you have a cow, you know it’s there, and it’s going to be there. With honey bees, you have a hive. All of a sudden next week, it can swarm, and then you have two hives, or you have half a hive. Or they (the bees) die out. And they get moved all across the country. It’s much more of a fluid thing.

“That lack of information or the fuzziness of that information has hindered our ability to make strong, concrete recommendations.”

The Bee Informed Partnership is designed to rectify this situation by creating a database that will contain information about all things related to honey bees. N.C. State’s role in creating the database will be to try to get a handle on important pathogens and parasites that afflict honey bees.

“There’s no systematic mechanism to track patterns of disease and disease outbreaks (in honey bees),” Tarpy said. “That’s what our component is going to do.”

Project field teams will collect honey bees around the country, then ship them to N.C. State, where the bees will be analyzed for the presence of disease or parasites. What is learned about bee health at N.C. State along with a range of other information collected as part of the project will be compiled in a database that will be available to beekeepers and others through a website.

“A very large component of this initiative is to develop an infrastructure to take those data and turn them into useful information, and through a web conduit broadcast that information so that beekeepers can see where disease outbreaks are in real time so that they can make informed decisions (about their bees),” Tarpy said.

Tarpy added that the interactive website that is developed as part of the project should allow beekeepers to enter information about their bees — information, for example, about a parasite that is afflicting their bees — then get back strategies for dealing with that parasite or other problem.

The website will provide beekeepers with the information they need to assess the risks and rewards of using various strategies to deal with a problem.

It is hoped that the project’s educational efforts will introduce beekeepers to best management practices that will reduce national losses in honeybee populations by 50 percent over the next five years.

Project collaborators, in addition to N.C. State and Penn State, are the University of California — California Cooperative Extension, University of Illinois, University of Georgia, University of Tennessee, University of Minnesota, Appalachian State University, Lincoln University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Florida Department of Agriculture.

Written by: Dave Caldwell, 919.513.3127 or dave_caldwell@ncsu.edu

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