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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Biggest Crowd Yet for Science Symposium

In the largest showing in its short history, the 4th N.Z. Honey Bee Research Symposium drew a crowd of about 120 people to Energy Events Centre in Rotorua on June 28.

About 120 attendees are treated to updates on the latest and greatest in New Zealand’s scientific research at the recent N.Z. Honey Bee Research Symposium in Rotorua.

A day before the Apiculture New Zealand conference kicked off proper, a collection of beekeepers and scientists were treated to updates from the latest in research into not just honey bees in New Zealand, but related topics such as native bees, honey research, and varroa control. The later was a prominent topic, as it has been at previous Symposiums, with researchers from a mix of private agencies and the tertiary sector looking to bring advancements to understanding of the honey bee parasite and new methods to control it.

Each of the 25 speakers had 15 minutes to present their research and field questions. For consecutive years, Victoria University of Wellington student Rose McGruddy, speaking on her study of gene silencing to control varroa, took the award for best student presentation.

Some of the key takeaways from the symposium follow.

  • Ministry for Primary Industry scientist Richard Hall was keen to impress on the researchers that the New Zealand Honey Bee Collection of frozen bee samples from all over New Zealand, including Stewart and Great Barrier Islands, was open to applications for use in future research. He can be contacted via

  • Chatham Islands honey has a phenolic content of greater than mainland New Zealand clover honey, but less than most mānuka honey according to University of Waikato research by Simon Winship which offers “promise that there is a unique trace element profile of Chatham Island honey”, as the project continues.

Claire McDonald, left, and Evan Brenton-Rule, back row, of MPI are joined by winners of the awards for best student presentations at the Honey Bee Science Symposium in Rotorua. From left, Anya Nobel, Rose McGruddy and Alex Maan.
  • Native bees can survive in combination with avocado orchards, but pesticide use can have a negative impact on their survival according to Plant and Food Research from Felicia Kueh Tai, who also found the bees like to nest in soil slopes. With this latter point in mind, event organiser John Mackay floated the concerning thought, “with recent flooding events wiping out the soils of mud banks, I wonder how many of our native bee nests have been lost?”.

  • Anya Nobel’s University of Waikato PhD research into the microbiomes present on mānuka leaf surfaces always interests, and the latest update is that, compared to other species, mānuka’s collection of leaf microbiomes are much more closely related. Whether that influences qualities of honey produced is still an unknown but, the following speaker, Manpreet Dhami of Plant and Food Research, presented research showing microbes in nectar can determine the level of attractiveness of a flower to a honey bee. “If you want to make monofloral honey, this is a most interesting finding,” Dhami believes.

  • There is already a product in use in the United States which harnesses the use of RNA interference, AKA gene-silencing, to control varroa. ‘Vadescana’ introduces gene silencing to colonies through a sugar water solution and McGruddy has been testing its efficacy in New Zealand field settings where results varied between two different apiaries, but great potential was shown to interfere with mite reproduction.

  • Queen breeder Rae Butler invited fellow beekeepers to join up to the newly established New Zealand Bee Breeders Association, which aims to improve breeding techniques and knowledge transfer.

· Lithium Chloride has been proven to be a varroa killer, but determining just what the best and safest way to deliver it to a hive was the focus of a study by Kueh Tai using gels and liquids either directly to the mites or via bees. Results varied and so trials are continuing. Audience members suggested pollen patty type solutions or via vaporising as potential modes of actions, but both had severe limitations fellow researcher Michelle Taylor answered.

· While Waikato and Wellington University research teams had a strong presence, Lincoln University’s Alex Maan held the batten for South Island students. His research into obtaining organic varroa treatments from microbes sourced from New Zealand fungi has shown some ability to reduce varroa in hives. Four promising compounds have been generated from the fungi … mushrooms, who would have thought?

· Dr Megan Grainger of University of Waikato presented her research into the presence of metal elements in New Zealand and international honey, with one conclusion being that specific metal profiles could be a way of differentiating New Zealand honey from that of other countries, with some tests showing a 90% accuracy as a method to identify NZ as country of origin. Fellow Waikato scientist Brittany Jane also looked into the impact of such metals on hive health, identifying cadmium and mercury as present and having a negative impact on bees in NZ.

· Argentine Ants are not found everywhere in New Zealand, but when they occupy a beehive their presence is “really, really bad” according to Antoine Felden, from Victoria University of Wellington. His research has shown they can not only greatly disturb a hive and rob honey, but significantly increase the presence of deformed wing virus.


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