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  1. #1
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    Default I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    Keith Delaplane on queen rearing:

    Recently, he's been exploring commercial honeybee breeding practices and has uncovered evidence that he hopes will take bee breeding in an entirely new direction. Breeders have been trying with limited success to select specific traits such as honey production or resistance to the Varroa mite - suspect No. 1 in colony collapse disorder. But that's the opposite way to go with bee colonies, which are what scientists call a "superorganism," Delaplane explained.

    The hive's honey is like fat, a stored-up food supply; the bees' group decision-making is like the brain; and beeswax is like the liver of a single animal. The unit of natural selection with bees is the hive, not the individual, and hives strive for genetic diversity, he said. When Delaplane experimented by introducing more genetic diversity into hives instead of trying to narrow it, he found that everything improved - resistance, honey production and general hive health.

    "I think we're barking up the wrong tree," he said. "You can't do it like other animals. The colony resists genetic narrowing."
    from:
    "Bee researcher inducted into British order"
    http://www.greenwichtime.com/

  2. #2
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    interesting pete. how would you describe the 'right tree' that we average beekeepers should be barking up instead?
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  3. #3
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    Quote Originally Posted by peterloringborst View Post
    Keith Delaplane on queen rearing:
    from:
    "Bee researcher inducted into British order"
    http://www.greenwichtime.com/

    Hi Peter,
    Is bee-l slow?

    Thanks for some of Keith Delaplane's Wise thinking.
    Selecting within regional breeding populations would be good, although there are so few real "regional breeding populations".

    Adam
    vpqueenbees.com

  4. #4
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    Well, now, this is the beginning of a long conversation we could have. Folks seem eager to get short answers, but never mind that. I was just looking for a reference to Keith's recent honor in being "inducted" when I stumbled upon his suggestion that we are "barking up the wrong tree" regarding bee breeding. I have been thinking this myself for a very long time. However, I don't have the resources to really ascertain whether or not this has a practical application.

    Now, for centuries honey bees have been selected for one trait or another, often at the expense of other traits. This phenomenon is well known in convention breeding. Nature, on the other hand, rarely selects for one particular trait. In fact, surviving organisms usually exhibit flexibility as well as vigor. These are presumably based upon multiple genetic contributions, rather than being a single trait based on a small stretch of the genome.

    Going the other way, it may be that flexibility and vigor is a combination of traits, many which are latent and only become active under certain circumstances. That would be like a mechanic who has thousands of tools, most of which he doesn't use on a regular basis, but which he can pull out for a specific job. This would enable him to be able to work on any task, where someone with less resources might be stumped.

    What this means for bee breeding is anybody's guess. But there examples. Large populations of feral bees, like those in Brazil or Africa, have diverse gene pools, the exact opposite of inbreeding. Closer to home, Danny Weaver claims that his bees are a mixture of all the various lineages (M, C, A, and O).

  5. #5
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    Is bee-l slow?
    Hah! Seems to be stuck on neonics and the precautionary principle. Decide to throw caution to the wind ...

  6. #6
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    i haven't the experience, time, nor desire to perform testing of specific traits for use in breeder queen and/or drone selection. my back up plan is to select from the colonies in my apiary that show vigor, productivity, and survive winter. this was accomplished by splitting the strongest in the first years, and then with grafting from the best last year. the results are palpable, and i would assume that this how it has been done from the beginning so no news here.

    but i guess the point of your original post has more to do with commercial queen rearing and the bottlenecking that is occurring there. perhaps the 'tree' is that more beekeepers should be selecting from their best instead of relying on commercially available queens?
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  7. #7
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    but i guess the point of your original post has more to do with commercial queen rearing and the bottlenecking that is occurring there.
    No, I am not thinking about this and not that. I am thinking about all of it. The goals of beekeepers are similar whether large or small. We all tend to want consistent dependable results. And traditionally, the thinking was that by selecting bees with specific traits, those traits could be propagated. And it is true for some traits, like color or rapid buildup. But we are at the very beginning of understanding the genetic basis for complex traits.

    Even in monogamous organisms, the genetic bases of behavioral traits have not been identified. And then when you add the multiple mating of honey bees PLUS the fact that the colony contains thousands of individuals forming a "super-organism" it's plain that an oversimplified plan may not yield the proposed results. But as I said, we are at the beginning of a long conversation we could have, depending on the stamina of the participants.

    P

  8. #8
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,


  9. #9
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    Peter,

    I have suggested the same concept for a while now and actually use it in my breeding program. It is easier for beekeepers/researchers to focus on a single trait for selection efforts, but too much other material is lost in the process. One queen has little value, but rather it is the population of queens in a breeding program that contain the value and the tools of adaptability over time.

    Joe
    Breeder Queens & Honey Bee Nutritional Supplements
    www.latshawapiaries.com

  10. #10
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    This may fit in on this thread.
    Exactly. I have been impressed by the work of Brock Harpur and Amro Zayed. They and others are leading the way for a much broader understanding of breeding, evolution, and genomics. They write

    the evolution of eusociality may select for high rates of recombination, which increase genotypic diversity in workers leading to increased colony fitness. Our study also suggests that higher recombination rates increase the evolutionary rate of genes associated with worker behavior, which may fa- cilitate the evolution of worker specialization
    This is exactly what I was saying. Important traits for survival include adaptability AND a high degree of specialization, which bee colonies exhibit. Imagine having a team that included individuals that were really good at one particular thing, and being able to bring them into play when needed. This would could be better than a team which had members all of which were OK at a most things, but not great at anything in particular. It depends, of course, on what the challenges are and what are the burdens of keeping a bunch specialists at hand. For some situations one may be better than the other. There again, we know that the population of a hive vastly increase in the summer. Maybe they have a large diverse workforce in summer and trim down to a specific subset in winter.

    P

  11. #11
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    Quote Originally Posted by peterloringborst View Post
    But as I said, we are at the beginning of a long conversation we could have, depending on the stamina of the participants.
    understood p. i am eager to learn more about this and would be interested to follow said conversation, but i'm afraid my contribution would mostly take the form of asking questions.

    it's a fascinating topic and germane to all here, i hope you'll take the time to develop it.
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  12. #12
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    I have suggested the same concept for a while now and actually use it in my breeding program.
    The problem is this: what is the effective population size for this to work. Breeders try to narrow and intensify traits. Nature has both isolated and wide based populations. Evolution goes on in both these types of populations but the results tend to be different. Obviously, prolonged isolation leads to populations with distinctions from other populations. Whereas, the larger the breeding population the more heterogenous they are likely to be. Heterogeneity seems to be what evolution tends toward, when unrestricted. Humans tend to try to fit things into a conceptual mold.

    P

  13. #13
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    Quote Originally Posted by peterloringborst View Post
    Breeders try to narrow and intensify traits.
    Some breeders take this concept too far and reduce any benefit of their efforts. A little of good thing is fine, but too much is detrimental. I wish I knew what the working population size should be. However, the larger the population size, the better. A larger population provides greater selection material and stability. Along with the concept of fitting things into a specific mold, we as humans often argue we are making things "better", but better can be very shortsighted.

    Joe
    Breeder Queens & Honey Bee Nutritional Supplements
    www.latshawapiaries.com

  14. #14
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    we as humans often argue we are making things "better", but better can be very shortsighted]
    Exactly. We try to get things our way. Be careful what you wish for, is what I learned from watching the Twilight Zone as a kid. But I think the beekeeping world has matured past the point of trying to "make" a better bee, to the realization that the best bee is the one that doesn't need to be propped up by beekeepers. On the other hand, there are a lot of different reasons why people are interested in bees. Some want to make a living selling their honey, others want to enjoy hives in their yard. Others are interested in honey bee conservation, especially in regions where honey bees are native. Many of these different interests are in conflict with each other, as I have been learning. People who just want the bees to stay alive may not object to using chemicals to control pests. People who just want to live an organic lifestyle may not object to bees that don't produce very much honey. Conservationists may not care about honey at all, and are seeking a way to populate the woods with bees that can fend for themselves. Etc

  15. #15
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    Perhaps the spectrum of acceptable and desirable ecotypes may not be as broad as we assume. Some middle of the road ecotype may work nicely to fill a good number of niches. Then again, I think this is the very characteristic of a population. Some of the colonies will excel some of the time, while most will simply survive or die.
    Breeder Queens & Honey Bee Nutritional Supplements
    www.latshawapiaries.com

  16. #16
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    Some of the colonies will excel some of the time, while most will simply survive or die.
    Yeah. When I had hundreds of colonies, I had no problem with the idea that some did really well, some didn't and some died. Now that I only have a few hives, I want them all to be winners. I guess the lesson is to keep more than you want and then when a few tank, you don't sweat it.

    PLB

  17. #17
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    "One queen has little value, but rather it is the population of queens in a breeding program that contain the value and the tools of adaptability over time" JSL.
    Except for those that are aggressive I have difficulty eliminating any queen that has successfully led a colony through winter from contributing to the next generation.
    I look at myself. I am not a physically impressive specimen, but I do good work.
    I would rather have frugal, conservative bees that survive, and pool frames of brood into production colonies before a honey flow.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    Quote Originally Posted by Adrian Quiney WI View Post
    Except for those that are aggressive I have difficulty eliminating any queen that has successfully led a colony through winter from contributing to the next generation.
    I look at myself. I am not a physically impressive specimen, but I do good work.
    I would rather have frugal, conservative bees that survive, and pool frames of brood into production colonies before a honey flow.
    i find myself in a similar situation adrian. i have a few colonies that have made it through a couple of winters now off treatments. they are distinguished from the rest in that they are slower to build up, quicker to swarm and afterswarm, and haven't produced much honey for me. the dilemma is that i don't know what if any survivor/resistance traits they may be contributing to the gene pool, and i'm not sure eliminating them from the mix is a good idea or not.
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  19. #19
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    The eusocial ants (and others) have genetic castes and specializations. Apis does not. The evolutionary approximation is to maintain highly diverse half-sisters as morphologically identical workers. The hive with the greatest fitness will have broad mixture of genetics -- so no single narrow specialization or hypertrophied trait will cause the super-organism to founder. The instructive example would be VSH -- where the over-expression of the trait consumes so much of the brood that the colony does not prosper in comparison to some intermediate expression.

    It is widely reported that Apis m. has very high rates of recombination -- yet the species is a single interbreeding, cosmopolitan taxon.

    I have worked professionally on a number of rare plants called paleo-endemics as they apparently have become fixed on a single shrinking niche, yet are unable to broaden or adapt to surrounding habitat. These plants typically have high polymorphism and often doubled or tripled chromosome numbers. Polymorphism is just like hybrid vigor -- it is a strategy to improve phenotype by adding alleles. Obligate polymorphism for more than one or two loci becomes a mathematical trap to the organism. If 1/4 (the mendelian ratio) of the offspring express the needed combination, the plant must produce 4 x the gametes for the same reproductive effort. If there are 2 loci -- the mendelian ratios multiply == 1/4 x 1/4 = 1/16 of the ovules are genetically conditions. Modern PCR allows us to observe that many polymorphisms are needed to produce viable ovules, and the mathematics of this are such that the plants must produce hundreds of thousands to millions of aborted embryo's before a single viable ovule develops.

    Honeybees have avoided this trap while incorporating the fitness conferred by highly recombinant genotypes. They do this with polyandry and single locus sex incompatibility-- creating an super-organism of out-crossed half-sisters.

    Unless a management system emphasizes the creation of out-crossed, loosely-related, highly diverse offspring -- the system is running counter to the evolutionary imperative selected by the bees. Almost uniquely, bees have "picked" a breeding strategy that ensures a genotype from Finland can inter-breed with a genotype from Cape Town -- and is most fit when this half-breed is present in the nest simultaneously with a genotype from the Caucasus x Iberia.

    Beekeepers will talk of their "mutts" as if the American Kennel Club disapproves of their insects. This is nonsense -- overbred bees are an evolutionary anamoly -- if their were island species created by narrow populations and selective drift, they have lost out in the hard judge of evolutionary time - they do not exist anymore. Their are morphological variants created for vanity (Cordoban) -- but the heart of the honeybee success is in the cosmopolitan out-crossing swarm.

    Part of this normalizing impulse is due to the nature of co-evolution with plant nectar. Insects can choose to specialize, and a plant-pollinator dyad is born that becomes specialized (tongue length, flight season, nectar composition). Specialization brings the risk of extinction. Honeybees do not specialize (the out-crossing won't let them), this resistance to change means the plant in the pollination dyad must conform to the honey bee. Bees are forcing plants to adapt to them (long blooming season, adequate nectar, common floral design) by adopting a breeding system that will not specialize and "chase" a particular flower.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: I think we're barking up the wrong tree,

    Insects can choose to specialize...
    I was with you up to this point. Although I realize it's convenient to use this syntax, organisms don't "choose" what they become. The became what they are as result of genetic variation and the action of natural selection upon that variation. The ones that didn't vary, died out. It appears that insects and flowers have adapted to each other but the fact is this is a product of evolution, which is blind. Beyond that, tight co-adaptation is the exception rather than the rule. I like to think of the network of plants and pollinators as a vast web. No player in the web is indispensable. An example is that when California was settled by Europeans, there were millions of acres of plants that were perfect for honeybees, especially the sages.These evolved together with wild solitary bees, no eusocial bees were required (although bumble bees were part of the mix).

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