Scientists and Bee Stakeholders Attack Varroa Mite at USDA Summit
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
By: Dick Rogers, Manager of the Bayer Bee Care Center Research Program
For much too often during my career as an apiologist I have seen first-hand the devastation caused by the parasitic Varroa mite, which invaded North America honey bee colonies during the late 1980s. Following last week’s Varroa Summit, sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), I’m beginning to feel more optimistic that a concerted effort can finally turn the tables on this destructive pest.
Among the approximately 75 scientists and stakeholders invited to participate in the USDA’s Varroa Summit were three colleagues from Bayer, including me, Dr. Ana Cabrera, pollinator safety and Varroa mite research scientist, and Dr. Klemens Krieger, a parasitologist working in Bayer’s Animal Health Division. We were pleased to be a part of this historic gathering, which was a logical outgrowth of the National Stakeholders Meeting on Honey Bee Health in 2012. That meeting dealt with multiple factors involved in bee health, but the findings summarized in its 2013 report identified the Varroa mite as “the single most detrimental pest of the honey bee.” This provided a clear objective and an opportunity we couldn’t ignore.
I was impressed by the depth of participation in this much-needed forum. Although there are many issues facing honey bee health, there is none that is as important as solving the problems associated with this invasive parasite. Bringing together scientists from across the globe with representatives from government, agriculture and beekeepers provided a rich environment to share our collective knowledge and discuss ideas for developing an effective Varroa mite management program.
What was made clear during the summit is that there are no easy solutions to the Varroa problem. The range of possible management methods included discussions of chemical, biological, breeding, and cultural practices. Moreover, the complex interaction between parasite, disease and honey bee nutrition was an area that all agreed requires additional research. Nonetheless, I came away excited about the prospects of developing an integrated approach to effectively deal with the Varroa mite and enable beekeepers to do the work that is so important to agricultural sustainability.
More information will come from this meeting, but the first step in solving a problem is recognizing its existence. I applaud the USDA for holding this summit and I’m happy to say that we’ve taken that step. As we prepare to open the new North American Bee Care Center in Research Triangle Park, NC, our primary focus is on Varroa mite management – and working collaboratively with others will bring us closer to the healthy hives our beekeepers so desperately need.