Update of the Apiculture Program at NCSU
The Apiculture Program at NC State has three core missions: Extension, providing information, advice, and other outreach services to help beekeepers at all levels; Research, using the scientific method to test hypotheses about honey bee biology and ways to help improve bee management; and Instruction, teaching and disseminating knowledge about honey bees and apiculture through formal classes and academic training. This past year has involved a great deal of activity in the program in each of these areas.
For extension, we have published four new or updated extension articles in the last year, including a popular article on the NC Zoo Exhibit (with Janno Daniel-Lewis as the lead author) published in Bee Culture magazine. We have also published monthly online articles that review recent scientific research on honey bees and bee management, as well as other materials that have been posted on our web site . We have been featured in 13 media stories in the last year, including National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation Science Friday with Ira Flatow and On Point with Tom Ashbrook, the Wall Street Journal, and National Geographic Kids magazine. Finally, program members have provided 37 presentations to regional, state, and local beekeeping organizations, including 9 workshops or beekeeping field days. Unfortunately, our ability to attend local chapters has been fairly curtailed compared to previous years due to ongoing budget constraints and travel restrictions.
Another year, another record for the MBP! As of June 29th, 2010, there have been 603 new participants joining the program in the last 12 months. This number is the highest annual enrollment ever, up from the previous year's total by 88. Enrollment is up 71% from 5 years ago, and up an incredible 433% from 10 years ago. Clearly, this is a direct consequence of the tireless—and much appreciated—work of the increasing number of introductory bee schools and their instructors. An additional 115 persons have progressed in the program (e.g., moved from Certified to Journeyman level, or provided new service activities), so that there have been 718 people who have shown some activity in the last year. In total, there have now been 5,677 participants who have joined the program since its inception, 62% (3,505) of whom have been active in the last 10 years.
One of our biggest projects this past spring has been the "Born & Bred in NC" initiative on queen rearing and bee breeding. With project coordinator Dr. Juliana Rangel leading the charge, we have conducted seven queen-rearing workshops all across the state of North Carolina, working with over 400 beekeepers on basic queen-rearing techniques. Moreover, interest in the workshops far surpassed our capacity to serve them, and over one hundred beekeepers have expressed an interest for repeat sessions next year. We have received a significant amount of media coverage about the program, all of which has helped to promote bees and beekeeping. We are now in the process of soliciting applicants for one of three bee-breeding clinics this fall. In doing so, we are requesting two-page essays and other documentation from each interested beekeeper who has cmpleted a queen-rearing workshop to determine which candidates may take advantage of the additional training to initiate a queen breeding business. These clinics will be conducted in the fall. Our hope is to develop numerous "microbreeders" within the state will improve the overall health of the honey bee population, help secure our needs for pollination in agriculture, and stimulate a new niche economy to bolster a challenged industry.
We have also been actively involved in our research program, with nine scientific presentations or posters given within the past year. We also published five papers in 2009 in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and another two already published this Our main research project is funded by a large USDA grant to survey the "mating health" of commercially produced queens in the U.S. There is both anecdotal and empirical evidence to suggest that many queens produced in the U.S. may not be adequately mated. We have tested a representative population of queen bees purchased from commercial queen producers for several factors: their physical health (i.e., morphological characteristics—such as weight and thorax width—that are indicative of reproductive quality), their insemination success (by performing sperm counts on the contents of their spermathecae), and their mating numbers (by performing genetic paternity analyses on their offspring). We have found some very interesting trends. Most notably, we have found that while queens seem to be mating with a sufficient number of drones (25.0±13.11; range 6 – 50), their stored sperm counts seem to be a bit lower than the expected 5-7 million (3.99±1.504 million; range 0.20 – 9.03 million). In fact, we found that 18.9% of the queens were 'poorly inseminated' (<3 million stored sperm) and a full 81.1% were 'under-inseminated' (<5 million stored sperm). These results confirm that some—but certainly not all—commercially produced queens may be improperly inseminated and therefore may become premature drone layers. Our next step will be to determine why they seem to be mating adequately but being inseminated inadequately. We have submitted another USDA-AFRI grant to that effect and hope to be funded by year's end.
Our continued contribution to the CCD Working Group has been to publish the results from our collaborative studies. The first of many papers on the subject was finally published this past year. The study—which will likely serve as a hallmark paper on CCD—reports preliminary epidemiological data on Colony Collapse Disorder, investigating various factors such as varroa mites, nosema, pesticides, protein content, and virus loads. Of the 61 quantified variables, no single measure emerged as a most-likely cause of CCD. This suggests that the syndrome is most likely a complex combination of several different factors, which will make it much more difficult to pin down and determine what we can do to prevent it. Another companion study is currently accepted in the Journal of Economic Entomology, and yet others are currently being analyzed and written for submission.
On the teaching front, we have been working this past year on developing a new and exciting course at NC State. Every other year for the past 6 years, we have offered ENT 401/501 "Advanced Beekeeping", which is capped at 15 students. Given the constraints of many would-be students, we felt there is a great opportunity to offer a similar course online. As such, we received an IDEA grant through NC State's DELTA unit (Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications) to develop and produce a new web-based course tentatively titled "Honey Bee Biology and Management". Students need not be on campus, as they will be able to learn the materials remotely and on their own time schedule. There will be a hands-on laboratory component associated with the course, so students will ultimately become well versed in both bees and beekeeping. The first offering of the course will be Spring semester of 2011, so keep your eye out for additional details if you are interested.
We continue to remain busy and productive in each of our areas of extension, research, and teaching, and we hope to remain so into the future.