Spring 2019, overview 2018.

US breeding program

In Hawaii we had a quite turbulent year. At the start of the year we were very happy to present the breeding program to the Brandpunt-TV crew which made the effort to join us to Hawaii and Baton Rouge and made a nice overview of activities and progress.

As can be seen in the documentary (link on our website), their visit coincided with a large increase of activity of the Kilauea Volcano. Large flows of magma erupted from a large area, destroying more than 700 homes. David Thomas, the beekeeper that houses our program, had to remove a large amount of honey production colonies out of the active area. The colonies in our breeding program were fortunately not affected and during the summer, the magma flows came to a stop.

Originally, a normal colony on Hawaii had to be treated against Varroa around 4 times per year – as there is no winter, the mites can multiply in the brood all year round. Half of the colonies in the program are now treatment free, while the other half is down to, on average, a little bit more than 1 treatment per year. The average amount of mites per 100 bees has been steadily decreasing, to below 2% on average. This is very nice as this is below the to-be-treated-against-Varroa level of 3%.

2018 was a bad year from the weather point of view (yes, even on Hawaii): there was a record level of rain which hampered a normal honey flow. Fortunately, 2019 looks to become a more normal year, which will enable us to do more selection on the amount of honey a colony collects – also an important trait for a commercial honey bee.

EU breeding program: Buckfast, Carnica and Black Bee

More than one hundred beekeepers are now actively running the selection program in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, France, Luxemburg, The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. Almost 700 colonies were prepared, infested with mites and assessed on their resistance level. 189 colonies were identified as highly resistant (≥50% of reproducing mites removed from the brood). Of these, a third of the colonies removed all of the mites and are considered 100% resistant.

To enable the distribution of the resistant stock to a larger number of beekeepers and also to produce production colonies of the participating beekeepers in our program, isolated mating stations have started to use highly resistant queens of our selection program as a basis for the production of their drone producing colonies (usually 20-40 colonies per station).

Beekeepers can bring their virgins to these stations where they are naturally mated with the highly resistant drones.

Especially the Bayern Buckfast group is already very active with the supply of queens to three stations: Karwendel, Leyhörn and Ammergebirge in Germany.

There is also a station running in Luxembourg, which was joined by a  newly complemented station in Belgium (Sélange-Arlon), just on the other side of the border.

After the Hawaii trip, the Brandpunt TV-crew were eager to make a second documentary of our activities in the Netherlands (see also the website). In this documentary Gerbert Kos and members of the Marken mating station are explaining what is entailed in the project and how the mating station of Marken works.

In this documentary the importance of the pollination tasks of honey bees was also explained by our partner Bejo Zaden in Warmenhuizen.

2018 was the first year for the Black Bee group in Belgium joining our program. A total of 34 colonies were counted for VSH and already 8 colonies were found to be highly resistant – a very nice score for a first year!

The large growth in participating beekeepers has been made possible by the recruitment of two new project leaders.

Guillaume Misslin, both a very experienced bee breeder and a trained molecular biologist, joined Arista in April (made possible by financial contributions from the Adessium and the Dioraphte foundations). As he already participated in our program he was quickly up to speed and is now supporting the groups in the German speaking areas (Germany, Switzerland, Austria) and the Carnica groups in the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Guillaume was also active in the Barbados project.

The second project leader we were able to recruit in 2018 is Sacha d’Hoop de Synghem. Sacha is a graduated Bioengineer and beekeeper. His recruitment is made possible by financial contributions of the Walloon Government to the newly created entity Arista Bee Research Belgium.  Sacha quickly took up the massive amount of organizational and training tasks which resulted in an even higher number of participating beekeepers in Belgium (>60).

Terschelling project

On the island of Terschelling a Black Bee project was started with the cooperation of all beekeepers on the island. Many of the colonies on Terschelling seem to be quite “black”, judging by their colour.

However, Buckfast bees and Carnica bees have also been held on the island for quite some time. So, we started a small project to see whether there are still enough relatively pure colonies to start a Varroa resistant Black Bee breeding program.

For this, Merel Rookmaker and Bart Lubbers, students of the Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences sampled all the colonies on the island and used the “fingerprint” of the wings of the worker bees to determine how “black” the bees are. From the 150 sampled colonies, 30 colonies were considered black enough (with 65-92% of the workers fully black and the remaining workers close to this) to keep. The queens of the other (less black) colonies will be replaced with daughters of these black queens during the coming year. This selection process will be repeated to further increase the purity. At the same time, we will start monitoring the mite-growth in the colonies to get an idea on the current level of resistance. This will enable us to prepare ourselves for the Varroa-resistance-selection-part of the project.

Genetic Marker project

2018 was the first year of the “RAAK” project, the consortium with Inholland University of Applied Sciences, Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences, the company Bejo Zaden BV and Arista Bee Research. The different partners each have their own expertise and tasks in the project.

Arista Bee Research is responsible for the creation and identification of colonies that have very low and very high levels of VSH. From each of these colonies, 50 bees are collected and stored for analysis. We were able to collect samples from more than 50 colonies with either very low or very high VSH.

This is enough to start the next phase of the project: the extraction and sequencing of DNA which Inholland and Bejo Zaden have now started to work on. Once sequencing has been done, we can start comparing the low and high VSH colonies looking for differences between the DNA sequences.

Van Hall Larenstein started the phenotyping of the behaviour which means that we will confirm that it is indeed VSH behaviour (removal of the infested pupae/mites from the brood) in the highly resistant colonies, by investigating captured video of bees on Varroa infested frames of brood. 

Barbados project

We were able to conclude all the needed measurements on 10 untreated colonies in Barbados. The results over the year are quite stable: relatively low mite levels on the bees as well in the brood, clearly showing high levels of resistance. The USDA is now investigating the bee-samples we took for virus levels and possible Africanization.

We will be compiling the data in a publication which will give a more detailed overview in the results and conclusions. The project has been made possible by financially contributions from the Bayer Bee Care centre.

Arista Academy

During the last few years we compiled a lot of knowledge and “do’s and don’ts” relating to our selection program. At the same time there are a lot of beekeepers that would like to start participating in our program or that would like to further develop their skills.

So, with the help of a new volunteer, Marjolein Bemelmans, we have started to build a comprehensive training program; “Arista Academy”. We will work hard to make the program available for participating beekeepers in the spring of 2020.

Arista Cloud

As we now have shown that the Arista selection method is working, it is time to further expand the breeding program.

In line with the increasing number of beekeepers, the number of project leaders, technicians and staff members will also have to grow. This also implies further investments in the establishment and furnishing of a European center with offices, lab, apiaries and training space as well as investments in equipment such as insemination sets, microscopes, incubators and freezers.

So, we are currently very busy for the launch of a new sponsorship program, tailored towards companies, governmental institutions and communities: the “Arista Cloud”.

By adopting one or more Arista hives with a Varroa resistant queen, one would become both a participant and a sponsor of the Varroa resistant breeding program.

Such a hive would be fully maintained by Arista & partners and will be monitored for (lack of) Varroa infestation, honey collection etc. Both Arista and the sponsor can follow the hive on an internet-dashboard to see how the hive is doing. The colonies in the hives contribute in two different ways to the program: Firstly, the drones from these colonies will distribute the Varroa resistance by mating with queens in the neighborhood of the hive (up to 10 km from the hive). Secondly, Arista will select the best queens and re-use them in the breeding program to produce the next generation.

We will further update you with more details on this Arista Cloud program once we have completed our logistic preparations. We are working hard to breed queens, prepare special designed computer monitored hives, etc. . Interested parties can already contact us for more information.