Making the most of genetic potential in queen bees 17 Dec 2015

A pilot study into the identification of genetic traits in honey bees – and their heritability – has predicted that genetic performance recording techniques could massively bolster honey production and the health of hives in Australia.

Most livestock industries use modern genetic techniques to select breeding stock, and the new report estimates that the collection and use of similar data by queen bee breeders could increase average hive production by around 1kg per year indefinitely.

If the industry adopts the full recommendations of the research report – assuming realistic gains and adoption rates by breeders – it’s suggested the value of production could increase by more than $32 million over the next 25 years.

The research has been carried out by Rob Banks from the University of New England as part of the Honey Bee and Pollination Program, a partnership between the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited (HIA) and the Australian Government.

Chair of the Program’s Advisory Panel, Michael Hornitzky, says agricultural producers are always under pressure from increasing costs, and genetic improvements are one way to improve productivity.

“One of the benefits of using genetics more effectively is that the effects are cumulative – each year’s improvement builds on the previous one,” Dr Hornitzky said.

“This research has determined that both honey production and hygienic behaviour can be inherited by queens’ offspring, and there’s potential to measure other traits such as temperament and hive over-wintering weight.

“Of course, it’s important to realise there are other factors that can influence overall production, such as location of the hives and the length of the season, so the collection of data needs to be done properly.”

The report Genetic Evaluation of Australian Honeybees using BLUP procedures includes simple, clear recommendations on what data should be collected and how to use the results of genetic evaluation in making rapid genetic progress.

“The next step is for queen breeders to start collecting performance data and have it analysed to identify queens with the best genes, so they can be used as parents of the next generation,” Dr Hornitzky said.

“Further R&D is required to determine a system that ensures consistency between breeders in the way records are kept, to allow greater comparison of different lines, and industry will then need to agree to an approach to putting such a system in place.” 

To download a copy of the report or find out more about the Honey Bee and Pollination Program, visit