International knowledge to arm beekeepers against varroa mite

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A collaborative project led by The University of Sydney is preparing a host of resources, based on up-to-date knowledge from Australia and overseas, to support beekeepers in the event the varroa mite (Varroa destructor) establishes in Australia.

The AgriFutures Honey Bee & Pollination Program funded project is being conducted by a team of researchers at The University of Sydney, CSIRO, the University of Western Australia, Australian National University and La Trobe University.

Varroa mite is currently the biggest threat to the viability of the Australian honey bee industry and industries that rely on bees for pollination services. The project team will determine the best strategies to manage and control varroa mite in an Australian context, and make projections about spread and the likely effects on honey bee health and pollination services via a systematic literature review and far-reaching survey.

“Australia’s ultimate goal is to eradicate varroa mite, but through this project we are starting to plan for the worst case scenario — living with varroa,” project lead Nadine Chapman said.

“Planning and preparing to manage apiaries in the face of this potentially devastating pest is critical to building a resilient honey bee and pollination industry.

“We want to provide a package of resources that contains the best knowledge and evidence available for industry to develop polices and working plans to manage varroa if eradication cannot be achieved.”

Capturing knowledge and creating the toolbox

The team is currently finalising a comprehensive survey that will be used to collate the most up-to-date scientific and practical knowledge about varroa from around the world and identify any knowledge gaps.

The team will analyse the results of the survey within an Australian context to develop a toolbox of resources that best meets the needs of Australian beekeepers.

“We will also collate a list of recommendations for future research directions based on gaps in our knowledge, particularly in the Australian context,” Nadine explained.

The first materials produced will be a comprehensive series of easy-to-digest, practical fact sheets across a range of key themes — biosecurity, hive treatment and management, breeding for resistance, optimising honey bee health, managing viruses, and pollination continuation in a varroa-affected landscape.

To support the fact sheets and provide a platform for interactive discussion and learning, the team plans to host a series of webinars during 2023 where international experts share their knowledge and experience with Australian beekeepers and other industry stakeholders.

“Each webinar will focus on a key theme and participants will have the opportunity to ask questions on issues about which they have particular concerns,” Nadine said.

“Webinar presenters will be a mix of researchers and beekeepers to ensure we provide not only the latest information from a scientific perspective, but also practical information beekeepers can use in terms of everyday hive and honey bee management.”

The Australian Bee Research Alliance will also hold a series of webinars during 2023 to upskill Australian bee researchers on varroa mite.

Read more about what’s happening in the Honey Bee & Pollination Program

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