Queen quality, performance, and winter survival of imported and domestic honey bee queen stocks

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Holmes, L. A.
Ovinge, L. P.
Kearns, J. D.
Ibrahim, A.
Veiga, P. W.
Guarna, M. M.
Pernal, S. F.
Hoover, Shelley
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Nature Portfolio
Canadian beekeepers have faced high colony mortality each winter over the last decade. Frequently citing “poor queen quality” as a top contributing factor to colony loss, Canadian beekeepers report needing to replace half their queens each year. Domestic queen production exists throughout Canada but is limited due to the short season and can be further limited when colony mortality is high. Consequently, Canadian beekeepers import over 260,000 queens annually, primarily from locations with warmer climates. In this study, newly mated imported queens from Hawaii (USA) and New Zealand were compared to domestic Canadian queens produced in British Columbia; these stocks were evaluated on their morphological and sperm storage characteristics. Stock quality was also evaluated in the field at two locations in Alberta, Canada over two production seasons. Our results show initial variation in queen morphology and fertility among imported and domestic queen stocks. Most striking, the New Zealand queens weighed 10–13% less than the Hawaii and British Columbia queens, respectively upon arrival. Colony performance over a two-year field study suggests: (1) brood pattern solidness has a positive nonlinear correlation with honey production regardless of queen stock and environment; (2) environment (i.e., apiary location) and queen stock variably predict colony health and productivity depending on year; specifically, apiary site appears to be a stronger predictor of colony health and productivity than queen stock in year one, but in year two, queen stock appears to be a stronger predictor than apiary site; (3) high clinical symptoms of chalkbrood may explain the prevalence of poor brood patterns in colonies headed by queens from New Zealand; (4) domestic queens are 25% more likely to survive winter in Alberta than imported queens. Therefore, it is important to consider possible mismatches in disease immunity and climate conditioning of imported queen stocks heading colonies in temperate regions that face drastically different seasonal climates and disease ecology dynamics.
Open access article. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0) applies
Honey bee queens , Honey bee colonies , Colony mortality , Imported queen bees , Domestic queen bees , Apiary sites
Holmes, L. A., Ovinge, L. P., Kearns, J. D., Ibrahim, A., Veiga, P. W., Guarna, M. M., Pernal, S. F., & Hoover, S. E. (2023). Queen quality, performance, and winter survival of imported and domestic honey bee queen stocks. Scientific Reports, 13, 17273. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-44298-x