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Chalkbrood: BEE involved 16 Oct 2015

Chalkbrood has been labelled the most contagious and destructive disease that affects honey bee brood, and a new study underway in Australia is aiming to test how much the behaviour of bees changes infection levels within a hive.

Beekeepers in each state are being asked to volunteer through their state associations to assist with the project by sending in bees from infected colonies for genetic testing.

The project is being conducted by Jody Gerdts from Bee Scientifics through the Honey Bee and Pollination Program, which is a jointly funded partnership with the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited (HIA) and the Australian Government.

Beekeeper and Program spokesman Ben Hooper says it’s great to see research into this often over-looked disease, given some estimates suggest that up to 37 per cent of lost honey production is due to chalkbrood.

“The project, which will run for three years, will investigate hygienic behaviour in bees,” Mr Hooper said.

“This is where bees use their sense of smell to detect something is wrong in the hive and remove dead or diseased larvae before the cause becomes transmittable.

“The trait can be inherited, and overseas has been shown to be quite effective against chalkbrood and other diseases, as well as some pests such as Varroa mite. 

“We want to see how different Australian strains of honey bees compare to each other. Chalkbrood is endemic across most of the country, so it’s in the interests of the entire industry to get it under control.”

The project will investigate colony level resistance to chalkbrood through hygienic behaviour as well as innate larval immunity to infection, and identify lines of honey bees that exhibit good hygienic behaviour. It will also contribute to the PhD studies being carried out by Ms Gerdts at Latrobe University.

The aim is to provide information back to queen breeders so they have a scientific basis for selective breeding of disease resistant honey bees. 

This will not only benefit the management of chalkbrood, but other existing pests and diseases – and better prepare the industry for any exotic incursions.

For more information about the Program and its research go to www.rirdc.gov.au/honeybee-pollination

For information on chalkbrood identification and management, visit www.beeaware.org.au

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