Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
In my community, there are a number of treatment free bee-keepers. They swap germplasm with each other. I hold them in the highest esteem.
Keep in mind that a single breeding program requires about 1000 hives to produce a single genetically diverse, stable variety of bees. That's only about enough to supply one US state with queens sustainably.
Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Seems to me, like there is a tremendous incentive for the corporations to sell susceptible bees. It's the same old routine of "planned obsolescence", or "hybrids won't breed true". Just a way to keep people coming back year after year for fresh bees.
No, I don't think that's it at all. There are really two major issues that prevent breeders from pursuing parasite resistance.
The first is that it's a royal pain in the butt. Screening for brood diseases is super easy, just pull a few frames of brood, shake the bees off and look for anything out of place. With a glance you can tell if a hive is sick and to what extent. With parasites every single screening procedure is a ridiculous pain.
For example varroa is the easiest, which involves taking a frame of brood and shaking the bees into a bucket, taking a scoop of bees (preferably not the ones that fly off immediately so you get nurse bees), dumping them into a cup of rubbing alcohol, swirling it for 30 seconds and counting all the mites that drop to the bottom of the cup.
Nosema is even worse, you have to vacuum up forager bees that are returning to the hive and dump them into alcohol, then squash out their guts an examine the contents under a microscope, which is about 20 individual bees per hive.
I have no idea how you even test for tracheal mites, but I can only assume it's even more of a pain than nosema.
The second major issue is that bee research (and breeding development) receives only 1/10 of the funding that other livestock get. That is, for every dollar that cow breeders get to shave more brain cells off of black angus or to create a new holstein that's even better at living in a cage, beekeepers only get 10 cents, in spite of how important bees are to the pollination of so many major crops. Most bee research is carried out based on donations, and major breeders have no hope of getting the funding they need to carry out the expensive and time consuming screening needed to breed parasite resistant bees.
Beekeepers don't even buy most of their queens or bees from breeders. Most of the time they just buy from other beekeepers, the more skilled of which can triple their stocks in a year if they so desire. Most of them have to split their stocks every year just to keep them from swarming off before the pollination season starts up. If beekeepers buy from breeders it's typically for special purposes. For example to requeen a bunch of hives and they want to bring in new genetics, or because they're buying special genetics like VSH, or maybe they want to jump start a bunch of new hives for an intensive round of pollination so they buy a bunch of bulk bees and queens and dump them out in front of hives (which can build up faster than nucs). For the price of a breeder queen they could probably buy a whole nuc or box of bees from the surplus of their peers.
Also production queens from breeders DO breed true, but they're mainly breeding for color (like it matters!), gentleness and early build up for migratory pollination (which btw is unsuitable for cold climates, although you can get russians for that and they're even parasite resistant).
Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Survival of the fittest coupled with farmer directed selection is at the core of all of my breeding projects. I don't worry about throwing away genetic diversity within my crops, because I start with genetically diverse strains, and I can add new genetics whenever I feel like it. And with something like bees that mate on the wing, there are plenty of opportunities for ongoing out-crossing. It's easy enough to include Africanized traits in my breeding projects, plenty of those traits come back with bees that have traveled to the Almond orchards.
That's neither here nor there. Interbreeding with other people's bees and ferals is pretty much inevitable for migratory beekeepers, but if they weren't treating they'd end up losing maybe 90% of their stocks and their genetic diversity along with them (not to mention flood feral populations and hobbyists with an unmanageable varroa infestation and other collapse-related conditions). Crops and bees also have very different situations when it comes to breeding and selection, for example there are very few breeding programs focusing on locally climate adapted bees, and it's much easier to take a shotgun approach for selecting crop varieties for local adaptation. With bees you need a strong feral population with a healthy relationship to local breeding programs to achieve that, not to mention the varieties of bees that are imported from their native regions tend to be extremely limited. Primarily only carniolans and italians are used, out of some 6 major varieties that are well adapted for warm climates (italian, north+south greeks, iberians, caucasians, egyptians) and 3 for cold climates (carniolans, germans, russians) and at least 3 for tropical climates (egyptians, saharans, africans), which could be directly or indirectly intermixed. Compare that to hundreds of varieties of tomatoes or melons available for breeding locally adapted stock (the loss of which generally wouldn't produce large scale negative side effects like dying bees do).