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Honey Bee Health Coalition, Partners Secure $475,000 Grant to Test Treatments for Varroa Mite

Varroa mites can devastate commercial, amateur colonies.

Public Enemy No. 1 for honey bees has another target on its back. The Honey Bee Health Coalition announced today that it has collaborated with an international team of 12 scientists to secure more than $475,000 in grant funds from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research to facilitate the testing of chemical compounds that could help beekeepers more effectively treat varroa mite (varroa destructor) infestations. This funding, matched by participants and industry members to provide more than $1 million in total support, also will document how mites develop resistance to such treatment.

Varroa mites can eliminate a hive in 18 to 24 months. The varroa mite is an external parasite that attacks adults and the developing brood. It feeds on the blood of the bee and weakens it, and transmits bacteria and viruses. Experts say that controlling the varroa mite would increase honey bee health by 70% to 80%. Like all pests, mites can develop resistance to pesticides.

The funding will support the identification, lab testing, and field testing over the next three years of orphaned chemical compounds that have known acaricidal (miticide) activity, but have not been specifically tested against varroa mites. Many of these compounds are in a bottleneck where the costs of testing and commercializing them are too steep for testing, effectively leaving them on the shelf.

“Varroa mites pose serious challenges to bees and hives,” says Steven Cook, research entomologist, USDA-ARS, Bee Research Lab. “This grant will provide critical support for the development and testing of new chemicals that could help beekeepers better manage varroa mite infestations. We look forward to sharing the results of these efforts and supporting beekeepers’ efforts to implement integrated pest management strategies.”

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research grant will provide crucial support for this $1.1 million effort, which is championed by a wide array of national and international public, private, and NGO organizations, including USDA-ARS, University of Nebraska, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Department (Canada), University of Georgia, Universitat de València (Spain), Ohio State University, and Auburn University.

In addition to the grant funding, Project Apis m. provided financial support. Other organizations also have provided in-kind support, including bees from a number of regional beekeepers and compounds from Bayer.

“Varroa mites are rapidly adapting to treatments beekeepers currently use. This project will not only address this growing problem but also break the bottleneck that has formed around compounds we already know can treat mites,” said Jennifer Berry, University of Georgia, Honey Bee Lab. “We’re excited to work together with our partners across the world as we strive to cooperatively address the persistent problem of varroa infestations.”

Varroa mites are one of the driving factors in recent colony losses, which threaten productive agriculture and the crops that rely upon commercial pollination services. Left untreated, a single infestation can wipe out colonies and spread rapidly across a region. Given the scale of these problematic parasites in North America, Europe, and around the world, the coalition has worked to help beekeepers monitor and control varroa mites through the development and dissemination of key resources and information.

In addition to this project, the coalition has developed an expansive guide laying out best practices to detect, monitor, and control varroa mite infestations. The Tools for Varroa Management Guide, is now in its sixth edition and has been downloaded by thousands of beekeepers across the U.S. and Canada — and as far away as New Zealand.

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