This post discusses politics, how beekeeping / research is evolving, free living bees, and some interesting online resources. A common theme is apparent – beekeeping is increasingly swinging its attention to why local and wild bees are healthier.
Every two years a huge international gathering of beekeepers, Apimondia, is held. The next one was due to be in Russia in 2021 (it was put off until August 2022 by the Covid-19 pandemic), but the location has been changed at the last minute due to the war in Ukraine. These conferences take 2 years to arrange, so switching venues to… it’s not yet been decided… is not going to be easy. The original Russian conference website shows the massive effort put in by the locals. Of particular interest, look at the menu on the left hand side: Apiculture in Russia –> Wildhive Beekeeping. This is the area of Russia where tree beekeeping (Zeidler style) has been practised for a thousand years, and rediscovered by the rest of us recently, overturning many assumptions about how to keep bees. It’s also an area with naturally varroa resistant bees. Historically, Russia and Eastern Europe were always the major players and innovators in beekeeping.
Another political event with an impact on beekeeping is Brexit. This has effectively cut Britain off from imports of foreign bees, so commercial beekeepers are having to make do with local ones. This is a huge natural experiment which is going to reveal the truth over the next couple of years – was all the hype about imports being superior for commercial purposes true? Obviously the breeders in Britain are still trying to maintain their Buckfast lines etc, but they will have to work very hard to avoid excessive inbreeding, whilst the rubbish weather here is going to strongly favour locally adapted bees and result in lower losses nationally in a couple of years as people switch to those. And should Small Hive Beetle spread from Italy to the rest of Europe, Britain will be firewalled.
There is increased interest in wild populations. For example, COLOSS has been recording wild survivor populations for some years now, and there is a conference on this subject in Italy in May. Having personally found plenty of wild colonies in local roofs and walls, and been to Blenheim woods and had tree colonies pointed out to me, I’ve got one insight worth passing on. Tree colonies are incredibly hard to spot. Bees are really well camouflaged against bark, plus they’re hidden in the canopy; so even with someone pointing at the nest it takes a while to spot it, even with binoculars! It seems likely that the density of tree colonies is far higher than people realise.
Another Thing Going On is increased interest in bee gut microbiota. Papers are being published showing glyphosphate may not harm bees directly but it harms bee gut microbes, affecting their ability to digest food / immune system. There is a growing suspicion that bee gut microbes are location-specific, and we know they’re affected by commonly used hive treatments.
Covid has promoted interest in social immunity in dense honeybee colonies, and there has even been research showing they use social distancing to buffer the brood and queen from high-risk foragers when under parasite pressure.
Citizen science – mapping wild honeybee nests: If you know of one, consider recording it at a number of citizen science projects like FreeLivingBees (mainly UK), Beetree-Monitor (mainly Germany) and Honeybee Watch (international). There are probably half a dozen such sites which started around the same time; the organisers have considered networking their information into one big pool but there are data confidentiality issues. These strip out exact location data from online maps – because there are people who go round killing wild nests as “resevoirs of disease”.
The Arboreal Apiculture Salon: online lectures on topics of interest to natural beekeepers, with high quality speakers – the latest was Professor Tom Seeley
BIBBA webinars: this organisation (promoting the use of local bees) has produced some stunning Webinars over the pandemic, and continues to do so. I like their approachable, informal style and ready acceptance of a wide range of views. Their next talk is by Marla Spivak on social immunity in honeybees. I particularly valued Roger Patterson’s lectures titled “Beekeeping – challenge what you are told” and “Observation. Interpret what you see” which show common symptoms like spotty brood pattern and explain they can have many benign causes, then go further into how to determine what’s really going on.
Beekeeping fashionistas: Apparently a fashion company decided bee veils were going to be the “in thing” last year. Weird pictures here.
Thanks very much for this and all the great links – particularly interested in the gut biome and social distancing papers.
So, what of the promised DNA analysis of the claimed “last wild descendants of Britain’s native honeybee population”? The results are of interest, as the claim remains unsupported by evidence
Good question (for other readers, the questioner refers to the Blenheim Bees). The samples of bees were sent to a DNA testing facility in Ireland last year, but were opened and contaminated by Customs (due to Brexit). It wasn’t wise to take more bee samples during winter, when the colonies are small and vulnerable, but samples will be taken this Spring and sent for testing again.