Once again we had a meeting of DARG (Devon Apicultural Research Group) at the village hall at Uplowman, near Tiverton. There were 14 of us plus our guest speaker, Victoria Buswell (not buzz well!) of Plymouth University. As usual, we sat round the table interacting with the speaker, a far better way of learning than just watching a screen and listening.
Victoria is doing her PhD on local adaptation in the UK of populations of honeybees with native genes: the black bee, Apis mellifera mellifera. She is working with the B4 (Bring Back Black Bees) project. She’s not a beekeeper herself (yet!) although her sister is. I did suggest that she takes up but warned her that it is highly addictive. She has funding from NERC for 4 years in total, ending in October 2020, so there’s still time for YOU to join in and play with her!
I was the only one present who has been undertaking the survey and had already sent her my results so far. With experience and improved technology she is altering the methods. New participants will not need, as I did, to mark 100 workers and count how many marked bees remain at subsequent inspections.
Although local weather will need to be noted, the Met Office can provide much of the required information.
I had to tie string round an empty frame to make squares of 10 x 10 centimetres, place it against a comb from which the bees had been shaken and guesstimate to amount of various types of brood in each square. That is no longer necessary. Instead, Victoria will give participants a stand on which a beeless comb can be placed and a coloured screen to be placed behind it while a photograph is taken of the comb. When she receives the photos her computer can distinguish and count the occupied cells.
She wants a sample of 30 bees from each colony, which gives an accuracy of about 90%, and will analyse their DNA and let people know the result. This will help make evidence based decisions on the proportion of AMM genes in the pool and also local sub-sub species. All beekeeping is local and I told her that Prof. Len Heath, who was at Plymouth University several decades ago, kept bees both locally and also up on Bodmin Moor. If he moved a colony from one place to the other, it took them about 2 years to catch up with the locals.
Victoria needs a lot more people to take part in the survey. Besides individuals, it would be an ideal project for local BKAs, especially with club apiaries. Although the title of the project is local adaptation in UK colonies, there’s no hard border for bees in Ireland, where beekeepers are keen on AMM. Victoria would be very happy for beekeepers in Eire to join in.
If you would like to play with us, contact Victoria at: Beesurvey@plymouth.ac.uk