Queen Reproductive Health
Honey bee queens are the only reproductive female in a colony capable of producing fertilized eggs. As such, they are crucial for supporting survivorship and productivity of the entire colony. However, in the past decade beekeepers have been reporting queen failure as one of top causes of colony loss. Before we can provide long-term sound solutions to these issues we need to better understand the underlying mechanisms regulating queen mating and reproductive processes, as well as various factors modulating them. In the lab we are working towards revealing drone contributions that are driving behavioral, physiological and molecular changes after the queen mates and what might be long term consequences. Our research shows that changes in queen behavior (sexual receptivity), physiology (ovary activation, pheromone production), and transcriptional signatures are regulated by an intricate interplay of seminal fluid components, insemination volume and copulation itself.
We are currently working towards elucidating which specific seminal fluid components are regulating which specific post-mating changes which will provide insights towards improving breeding pathogen and pest resistant/tolerant honey bee stocks. Additional goals are to understand how common colony stressors affect queen reproductive health.
People working on this topic: Elina L. Niño, Laura Brutscher, Cameron Jasper, Nissa Coit, Andra George, Isaac Corral.
Varroa Mite Management
Varroa destructor mites were first found in the USA in the late 1980s. They made their way from Asia, evolving to specifically reproduce on Apis mellifera and devastating the US beekeeping industry. Varroa mites are still considered to be the #1 ectoparasite of honey bees. Colonies that have high varroa mite numbers (above the 3% threshold) late in the season are highly likely to die over the winter season. Beekeepers have a limited number of options for managing these mites and these include hygienic bee stock, host-parasite biology manipulation, and varroacides. Chemical treatments present a particular challenge as varro mites can quickly develop resistance and some treatments can be harmful to bees if not properly applied.
In the lab we are working with several entities and supported by The IR-4 Project to evaluate and develop new soft chemical for managing varroa mites in a manner safe for the bees. Thus far we have evaluated several new products or new formulations of existing products and while we can't divulge details we can say that there are several good prospects.
People working on this project in 2019: Bernardo Niño, Elina L. Niño, Christina Torres, Robin Lowery, Nissa Coit, Gehrig Loughran.