Growing Futures

Bees to combat varroa

Bees to combat varroa

Breeding bees to enhance tolerance to a fatal mite

Varroa, a parasitic mite which infects honey bees and can transfer fatal viral pathogens, is a source of concern to the horticultural and agricultural industries which rely on bees for crop pollination. It is estimated that the introduction of the varroa mite, discovered in New Zealand in 2000, will cost the economy between $400 and $900 million over 35 years.

Certain bees carry a genetic trait that reduces the ability of the mite to survive in an infected bee hive. A honey bee breeding programme established by Plant & Food Research determined that this trait, known as varroa-sensitive hygiene (VSH) is present in New Zealand honey bees. A selective breeding programme is now underway, managed by Rainbow Honey, to breed queens selected for the VSH trait, as well as other desirable characteristics such as honey production, hive hygiene and temperament. The next step is to conduct field trials on commercial beekeeper properties with the aim of making the queens commercially available in years to come.

The introduction of VSH bees will enhance tolerance in the New Zealand bee population, reducing the level of varroa infection in commercial hives. It is estimated that this will reduce costs associated with honey production by approximately 10% and ensure the stability of the bee population available for pollination services.

The VSH bee breeding programme was funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Farming Fund with support from Zespri Group Limited, the Avocado Industry Council, Plant & Food Research and the beekeeping industry. Support was also received from Sir Michael Fay and David Richwhite for the establishment of a research hive on Great Mercury Island. The VSH selective breeding programme is being undertaken by Rainbow Honey Ltd, funded by AgMARDT, the Honey Trust and the Sustainable Farming Fund with support from commercial beekeepers.

Created: September 2014

Share this impact case study: