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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Science Symposium Packs in the Knowledge


From gut bacteria, metals of the brain and American foulbrood bacteriophages, to over stocking of hives, monitoring pollen sources and a potential stumbling block for the control of giant willow aphid, The 2nd New Zealand Honey Bee Research Symposium in Rotorua packed in knowledge like a honey bee tightly filling a cell with pollen.

About 60 members of the apiculture industry, primarily beekeepers and scientists, filled a conference room at the Energy Events Centre on June 23 to learn of 21 current, future or recently completed research projects.

Updates from Massey University’s ABAtE project members, such as Jo Turnbull pictured speaking here, were well received by beekeepers and event organisers alike at the Honey Bee Research Symposium in Rotorua.

While each speaker had 15 minutes to bring the audience up to speed with their work, the associated question time following each presentation, and social opportunities during breaks, provided plenty of opportunity for deeper discussion on the wide range of topics.

The Symposium was opened by Apiculture New Zealand (ApiNZ) chief executive Karin Kos who praised the variety and scope of presentations on the programme, while noting that apiculture needs a clear industry plan, and science can help with that.

Varroa mite was a regular discussion point and both Kos and New Zealand Beekeeping Inc president Jane Lorimer, who opened the afternoon session, addressed the issue of high levels of hive deaths, largely attributable to varroa mite, in many parts of the country recently.

That made the presentation of Ashburton beekeeper Rae Butler timely, when she detailed the varroa monitoring work of the Mite Monitor programme in Canterbury over the recent beekeeping season. Butler also pressed several other presenters on the potential value of collaboration between a wider-scale varroa monitoring program and their own work.

Those beekeepers who put their hives to work in commercial pollination would have been particularly interested in the presentation of AbacusBio’s Gertje Petersen who unveiled a method of electronically measuring not just hive activity, but entry and exit of individual bees as part of their research. The resulting activity graphs displayed distinctive surges of activity throughout the day.

The ABAtE project from Massey University, which is striving to create an American foulbrood (AFB) “vaccine” for beehives, always has beekeepers pricking up their ears and in Rotorua there were three speaking slots set aside for Heather Hendrickson’s lab. While they have not yet found the bacteriophages required to form a cocktail to fight all strains of the AFB pathogen Paenibacillus larvae, their team is exploring methods to evolve the phages they do have to increase their productivity and move the project along faster.

The presentations of ABAtE team members Danielle Kok and Jo Turnbull also captured the attention of organisers, who recognised their presentations as best of the day.

AFB was again the area of interest when John Mackay detailed dnature Diagnostics and Research’s new Foster Method for diagnosing the bacterial disease, which involves a simple swap at the hive entrance which is then sent to their lab for testing. The process is simpler and quicker for beekeepers to carry out than previous testing methods, and they hope to have the research behind it published in the near future, Mackay said.

The discovery of a previously unidentified insect is putting the control of giant willow aphid at risk, Scion scientist Stephanie Sopow told the symposium. The February 2020 release of a parasitoid, imported from California, as a biocontrol of the aphid has resulted in an “enormous” population of the Pauesia insect already, pleasing Sopow and beekeepers alike. However, a predator to the parasitoid has emerged and they are seeking to learn more about the previously unknown insect.

Event organiser and Plant and Food Research scientist Ashley Mortensen closed the day by saying that, following an inaugural event held online last winter, the in-person symposium “fostered the connectivity we wanted”.

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