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David Sparks Ph.d NIFA and WSU
by David Sparks Ph.d, click here for bio

Program: Line on Agriculture
Date: October 09, 2018

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Bee populations in North America have been in decline since the 1940s. This is of great concern to the agriculture industry because about 75 percent of specialty crops depend on the services of pollinators – of which bees are the most economically important.

In the United States, honey bees and native bees are the most economically important species contributing approximately $15 billion in crop value. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) invests in research to investigate the reasons for the declining populations, promote pollinator health, reduce honey bee colony losses, and restore pollinator habitats. Long time beekeeper and bee expert Lynn Williams talked with me about the problems bees encounter with Varroa mites. "The mite actually attaches itself to the bee larvae for nourishment and that destroys that new bee. The mites repopulate 8×8×8×8. So it only takes a short period of time before the beehive is completely overrun with mites and you can no longer produce bees.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture funded researchers at Washington State University (WSU) are using advanced technology to understand the honey bee’s past and preserve the best of the present in order to improve the species’ future. The team is studying the genetic consequences of parasites and diseases on the honey bee, which is not native to North America, and is using cryopreservation (freezing) to store honey bee semen in WSU’s Honey Bee Germplasm Repository. Identification of desired traits will allow beekeepers to select honey bee strains that are adapted to their specific geographic needs and be better able to fight off diseases and pests.

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