Breeding for Varroa mite resistance.
Our current long term research is to move from selected VSH lines that may be genetically narrow to a more genetically robust stock of VSH bees with several desirable commercial qualities. Although queens produced from pure lines of VSH bees retain a useful level of resistance after they have been mated to just about any other stock of bees, the resistance is only half of the pure lines. Pure lines suffer from narrow selection that has reduced much needed genetic variability, and many purebred VSH queens need to be supported heavily for their colonies to survive. We believe that by narrowly focusing on a single trait, our previous breeding efforts missed the chance of producing a more sustainable stock with the VSH trait selected along with a suite of other important traits.
One of the problems with breeding for resistance to varroa mites has been difficulty in selection for important characteristics (such as the VSH trait). We will use a couple of different strategies as alternatives to the detailed selection of complex VSH behavioral traits. The hope is that we develop methods for bee breeders to focus on measuring the mite population levels as a primary selection tool to enhance resistance to varroa mites (or any disease being considered). A strategy for eliminating the most susceptible bees from the breeding pool while retaining colonies that even have just a little resistance will be emphasized as a method of keeping multiple resistance traits in the population.
Small hive beetle control.
A secondary focus of our research at the Bee Lab is the small hive beetle, the most recently introduced pest of managed honey bee colonies. There is relatively little known about the dynamic between the opportunistic small hive beetle and honey bees, but the beetle is ubiquitous in Mississippi apiaries. Small-scale beekeepers have resorted to mechanical removal of the beetle from their beehives as the primary means of keeping beetle populations from exploding in their hives; larger operations require the additional aid of chemical controls. We are particularly interested in the host-finding and reproductive behaviors of the beetle, which appear to be chemically-mediated, and are investigating these behaviors in order to find a way to disrupt them. Ultimately, we would like to develop a non-chemical control that prevents small hive beetle reproduction in susceptible colonies.
Helping our beekeeping community.
Our bee program has a large extension component that enables us to share the most current developments in bee research and management with other Mississippi beekeepers. When not in the office, Dr. Harris is out giving talks and workshops at bee clubs, garden clubs, county extension offices, grower and producer meetings and legislative meetings. He is actively involved with the Mississippi Beekeeper Association and maintains a relationship with the Farm Bureau of Mississippi to ensure that the needs of our commercial and hobby beekeepers are being addressed.
In addition to speaking engagements, both Dr. Harris and Audrey participate in educational events for school-aged children. These include Bug Camp, Beekeeping Camp, Wildlife Camp and several annual school tours held at the Clay Lyle Entomology building. Audrey particularly enjoys toting her observation beehive to elementary schools and sharing the fascinating hobby of beekeeping with eager minds.