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  • Writer's pictureNigel Costley

The Col-Loss Team

Three beekeeper-scientists work closely with Pike Stahlmann-Brown in running the annual Colony Loss Survey, we learn their backgrounds, roles and what they see as some of the most interesting aspects of the survey.

Hayley Pragert is a senior advisor at Biosecurity New Zealand, MPI. She is part of the Surveillance and Incursion Investigation group based in Auckland, working on bee health, pests and diseases. She has worked in Australia in bee biosecurity and has a MSc in entomology, focused on varroa control.

Hayley Pragert

Pragert believes that the survey promotes itself, but adds a note of warning by pointing out that the participation rate slipped a little between 2019 and 2020 (36% to 32%). She liaises with many beekeepers on how the survey should be developed - what questions to pursue and what questions can be safely ditched.

There are some interesting regional variations in attributions of hive death: in 2019, approximately 0.8% of all colonies in the upper North Island and the lower South Island were estimated to have been lost to wasps. While in the middle South Island reporting of losses due to wasps are low, just 0.2%.

As to speculating on why our losses are generally lower than other countries, Pragert’s experiences beekeeping in Australia leads her to suspect the adverse effects of migratory beekeeping.

“Compared to the Australians we have a greater diversity of floral sources and less migratory beekeeping, it’s a well-known stressor on beehives,” she says.

She is quick to credit the survey’s success to Stahlmann-Brown.

“Pike does all the heavy lifting: follow up interviews, the analysis and writing the reports. The survey is going to keep developing – it helps to tell the story of NZ beekeeping.”

Dr Richard Hall is a senior scientist at Biosecurity New Zealand, MPI. Based in Upper Hutt, he works on the laboratory detection of diseases and pests affecting honey bees. He has a diverse scientific background, working on livestock genetics, genomics, and the study of infectious diseases in humans and animals. He has a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Otago, and is also a registered medical laboratory scientist.

As to the high rate of beekeeper participation Hall says, “beekeepers just want to be heard - they feel a sense of responsibility”.

Richard Hall

He believes the health of the bees is inextricably intertwined with the health of the beekeeper. Attempts to measure this subjective relationship is made in the section on beekeeper views where lifestyle, biosecurity, environment and economics can be ranked on a scale of one to five.

Hall is impressed by Kiwi beekeepers’ high rate of literacy regarding disease. “Clearly varroa is the big broad-brush issue, but the survey can be used for teasing out more specific issues such as why they chose a particular treatment regime. Larger operations often cite scientific publications as their source of information.”

The team was encouraged to find that some of the survey’s results were corroborated by other studies, such as the Bee Pathogen Programme which ran from 2016-19, closely scrutinizing a selection of apiaries with laboratory sampling for a whole raft of conditions.

“We found the level of supplementary feeding in this cohort was similar to that of the Colony Loss Survey of 2019,” Hall says.

Nearly all beekeepers, 96.2%, with more than 250 colonies used supplemental sugar during the 2018/19 season, an identical figure to the previous season.

Dr Oksana Borowik is a commercial beekeeper and scientist based in the Coromandel, with a special interest in honey bee health and queen breeding. She holds a PhD in molecular phylogenetics from the University of Toronto. She is a member of the ApiNZ Science and Research Focus Group and is on the advisory team of MPI’s Bee Pathogen Programme. She is the Regional Coordinator for COLOSS Oceania.

Oksana Borowik

She stresses the survey’s social benefits.

“It brings beekeepers together – sometimes they don’t talk to each other – so it’s good to know that others share the same problems. Their answers give direction for further research and they can compare and contrast their results with others.”

Liaising with beekeepers internationally, she thinks other countries may find the NZ experience helpful.

“Pike and I attended the International COLOSS Conference 2019 in Montreal. The common theme from overseas colleagues was how impressed they were at buy-in from so many Kiwi beekeepers.”


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