Selecting Future Bees
The national honeybee genetic improvement project “Selecting Future Bees” is a cooperation between multiple partners across science and industry, and seeks to make modern animal breeding tools available to the New Zealand beekeeping industry.
Beekeeping project partners include queen breeding company Betta Bees Research, the Taylor Pass Honey Company, Tai Tokerau Honey, and Midlands Apiaries.
Scientific partners include the Laboratory for Evolution and Development at the Biochemistry Department of the University of Otago, Plant & Food Research, AgResearch, the Cawthron Institute, and livestock genetics specialists AbacusBio.
Our project partners have worked hard to develop tools for the genotyping and performance testing of queens that will be made available to the wider beekeeping industry throughout 2022 and 2023.
The goal of the Selecting Future Bees project
New Zealand’s sheep and cattle farmers, poultry and aquaculture industries all have access to sophisticated breeding programmes which have helped them lift the performance of their respective national populations over the past decades.
Beekeepers currently do not have anything comparable to these genetic evaluation systems, even though similar approaches for the genetic evaluation of honeybee queens have been successfully used in Europe for close to thirty years (see www.beebreed.eu).
Part of the reason for this is that these systems rely on standardised methods for the performance testing of selection candidates as well as managed mating (either by instrumental insemination or with the use of dedicated isolated mating stations) to allow for pedigree records. Both managed matings and the labour-intensive individual evaluation of selection candidates is difficult under commercial conditions, which are prevalent in the New Zealand beekeeping industry.
To close these gaps, our project partners are developing affordable queen genotyping services for all of New Zealand’s beekeepers to access. This will replace the need for managed matings, as genotyped queens can be linked to the rest of the population even if they don’t have any pedigree records. To reduce the need for laborious field evaluations, they are working to automate data collection for queen performance tests as much as possible by using hive monitoring systems.
How can you get involved?
Since we are nearing the end phase of the project, more details will be released on how services for genotyping and genetic evaluations can be accessed by the public. If you are interested in learning more about how you can improve queen breeding in your operation, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
We will also be sampling bees around the country for the second round of a study of genetic diversity in New Zealand in late 2022 to early 2023. - If you are interested in contributing bees to this survey and learning more about the diversity of your bees, please contact us!