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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
crosspost here and on Adamf's site.

I wanted to start a discussion around varroa tolerance and just what breeding value a given stock has. First some background. I have 10 colonies of bees that have not been treated in any way for varroa for 8 years. They are thriving and producing a decent crop of honey most years. I also distributed stock to a few other beekeepers and deliberately pushed swarms into the trees to boost the count of mite tolerant bees in the area.

Here are the nitty gritty questions that breeders should be able to contribute to. Just how much are these bees worth in a breeding program? Please think carefully and instead of talking about having mite tolerant bees, be a hard core pessimist and talk about why they do NOT have much value from a breeding perspective. After thinking about these issues, then apply the lessons to your own bees and breeding program. Those who sit back and read while rarely posting should be first in line on this. Your input would be most valued.

Why is this important? Because most of us are unrepentant optimists who always see things in a rosy light of unreality. The most important lessons I have learned were from a hardcore pessimist who questioned EVERYTHING. So instead of going all rosy and glib, get out a scalpel and do your very best to cut me to pieces. If you post some typical pablum rah rah cheerleading tripe, I will call you on it!!!!

Here are a few things to think about. I deliberately left at least a dozen more concerns open so someone else can nitpick.

1. 10 colonies? You've got to be kidding, just what impact do you expect to have with 10 colonies?

2. Just exactly what mechanism are they expressing to keep mite levels down? You don't know? How do you expect to make any progress if you are relying on "survival" as the only mechanism to determine mite tolerance?

3. So what about other economic traits? Do you rate your bees for performance? swarming tendency? wintering?

4. What about mite counts? You don't do mite counts? why not? wouldn't they confirm the bees are tolerant?

5. Are you relying on a single tolerance mechanism? brood breaks? vsh? allogrooming? reduced days to worker maturity?

6. Yeah, right, they work in North Alabama, but how would they stand up to Minnesota winters?

Why would anyone do such a thing as this? I call it "peer review". Anyone who has the gumption, feel free to describe what you are doing and I promise to do my best to cut you down to size too! :)
 

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1. You are already having impact.

2. Survival is the most important issue. Everything else has to be secondary.

When I get back in country I am hoping to start a queen cell exchange group where people share frames of new eggs from their survivors so we can prevent inbreeding weaknesses and promote survival of our Alabama bees. We will see.

You hand in there!
 

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It would seem to be that there are too many variables to indicate that your bees have any innate abilities. It could be your micro-climate, the amount of varroa in your immediate area, the way you raise/maintain your hives, all could and probably do have an impact. The only way to assign this trait to the bees themselves would be to take some daughters and start spreading them around to see how they fare in other environments with other methods of keeping bees. Until they prove hardy under different conditions you really can't say it has anything to do with the bees themselves. IMHO
 

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When you move a colony do they continue to survive?

When you move it two or three states away?

When you requeen a colony with one of your queens two or three states away - do those become treatment free survivors - or at least more so than what are currently available? Are you willing to stake your reputation on it somewhat?

If not do they at least show improved mite resistance within an ipm or treated cultural system compared to VSH for example?

If they are not measurably better than vsh in some way then that probably answers the question - for me anyway.
 

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Nice thread!!

When you say "value" what exactly are you referring to? Value of the genetics in the big picture of honey bees, or monetary value if you were to place these in the open market?

I have to agree with the response of Hawkster. I think you have something "interesting" right now, call it a baby step in a direction that may yield value, but you've given us few metrics other than survival. I'm sure you saw the recent thread and video of Dee Lusby's bees that are survivors, but the consensus here was that most wouldn't want to deal with her bees. Each of your 1-6 items in the list above is of serious concern if you're going to assign any form of "value" to these bees. Send some up to Michigan, put some in the hands of commercial beekeepers and see how they perform. You seem to be basing everything upon survival, which of course is a necessary condition, but not sufficient. To demonstrate "value" they must exhibit a wide spectrum of traits. I suggest that you collect more objective data if you want to increase their value. I've had pure VSH II queens that survived, but were very poor performers. I've also have some pure VSH that are awesome in many aspects.

Lastly, your tag line says: "44 years...". I think that may have an enormous impact on what you're observing. You're obviously a master in this craft, which may strongly influence what is being observed.
 

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darrel, i'm hoping i can visit you sometime and learn how to observe some of those tolerant traits that you describe.

my oldest colony is coming out of its fourth winter, and i have several that are coming out of their third winter. these colonies also happen to be the most productive in the yard, although that may be due in part that they have more drawn comb and were prevented from swarming.

i've only sold one nuc so far and this was to a beginner in 2012. it is coming out of it's second winter strong.
 

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While the resistance traits of ferals are worth something, it's the other behaviors that can make them unsuitable for commercial operations.
Runny, flighty, sound/vibration sensitive bees? You've got to be kidding me.
 

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Offering more questions. Are you trying to value just the bee DNA (queens) or the colony ecosystem value? (Minimum frame and attached bees or nuc.) Colony value has a distance factor for me.
Do you have a history of successful TF transfer? If so, distance accomplished and providance available are market factors.
 

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While the resistance traits of ferals are worth something, it's the other behaviors that can make them unsuitable for commercial operations.
Runny, flighty, sound/vibration sensitive bees? You've got to be kidding me.
not sure about fusion power, but i don't observe these traits in my colonies.
 

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While there may some intrinsic value in terms of specific traits, true economic value can not be determined until the are tested in a commercial setting where one would have to rely on them to make a living.

I think we are still in the stone age of stock selection with bees until we take advantage of marker assisted selection (MAS). When we incorporate this technology we will be able to identify what traits a population has and make substantial stock selection choices and designed crosses with much more ease.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Jrbbees is an unrepentant optimist. Where's your critical thinking cap jrb? I asked for serious questioning!!!

Hats off to Hawkster, he definitely has a pessimistic bone or two. He actually questions the tenets of my post.

LaFerney waffles back and forth. He questions a few things about location, then waffles off with "that probably answers the question - for me anyway."

Astrobee is blind. How else do you explain his question about dollars vs value of genetics. I clearly state "Just how much are these bees worth in a breeding program?" Other than that, he "agrees with Hawkster". His saving statement is "To demonstrate "value" they must exhibit a wide spectrum of traits." Not bad Astrobee!

Squarepeg can't help talking about his bees instead of critiquing my post, but he makes some good points. If the bees are alive and thriving and making a crop of honey, then something is working right. Get with the program Squarepeg, what are we doing wrong?

WLC does one liners. "Runny, flighty, sound/vibration sensitive bees?" What on earth gave you this idea? I don't have Weaver Wild bees. My bees have been selected for several years to reduce these traits. But he hammered me with "it's the other behaviors that can make them unsuitable for commercial operations." Ouch! So I guess this means some other folks need to test them and see how they do.

Saltybee is too polite, he asks if they can be transferred. I don't know yet and this is the $64,000 dollar question. How will they do in other climates?

OldSol Does a one two punch, first reminding me that they have to be able to make it in a commercial operation and then holds his nose while saying they need to be genetically stable and proven productive before he would consider them useful. His advice is based on a LOT of experience. Sol, we definitely need to get DNA testing going for bees, but it won't help until we understand what the genes are doing. There are a lot of years and a ton of work between where we are now and where we need to be for genetic selection methods to be viable.

Come on folks, more input needed. What other weaknesses should I be reminded of?
 

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FusionPower said in a previous post:


By the end of the day, the bees were dragging out huge amounts of frass and within 3 days had repaired the comb which no longer had any sign of wax moths. I've seen a similar event when I deliberately combined a small mite tolerant colony with a larger colony loaded with mites. In one brood cycle, the mite load in the combined colony had dropped to unmeasurable levels. This is what convinced me that genetic tolerance to mites is a viable method of going treatment free.
The description of the bees behavior is what interests me.

They'd have more value to me as replacement queens on a trial basis. I'd like to see how they fare in my local
after a couple of years of working with them using my management methods, then I'd know how valuable they could be to me.
From a monetary standpoint, if you offered them now for $500/ queen, I'd pass.
 

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Too polite? do not get that often. You have pushed swarms, any observations from those? impact on the neighborhood keepers?
Market value of all talk can be pretty high.
Real question was which market are you considering.
 

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Squarepeg can't help talking about his bees instead of critiquing my post, but he makes some good points. If the bees are alive and thriving and making a crop of honey, then something is working right. Get with the program Squarepeg, what are we doing wrong?
sorry man. ok, i'll try.

1. 10 colonies? You've got to be kidding, just what impact do you expect to have with 10 colonies?

your colonies and the swarms they have issued that are hopefully surviving (as well as mine forgive me for saying so) are living proof that natural resistance is out there and some bees can survive mites off treatments. the impact is that not everyone believes this is possible.

2. Just exactly what mechanism are they expressing to keep mite levels down? You don't know? How do you expect to make any progress if you are relying on "survival" as the only mechanism to determine mite tolerance?

you have described several mechanisms that you observe in addition to survival, is this question rhetorical?

3. So what about other economic traits? Do you rate your bees for performance? swarming tendency? wintering?

i believe that both you and i have addressed this, another rhetorical question?

4. What about mite counts? You don't do mite counts? why not? wouldn't they confirm the bees are tolerant?

i've done a few, and should do more. although i wonder if resistance is as much immunity to pathogens as it is the bees keeping the infestation rate low.

5. Are you relying on a single tolerance mechanism? brood breaks? vsh? allogrooming? reduced days to worker maturity?

my guess is that the bees are employing multiple mechanisms. at this stage in the game i have relied on colony longevity, production, and decreased propensity to swarm as selection criteria.

6. Yeah, right, they work in North Alabama, but how would they stand up to Minnesota winters?

this would be a great trial, i'll have nucs for sale this spring if any of you north of the mason/dixon line want to drive down and get them.
like you fusion, i am seeking all knowledge and wisdom that can move the ball forward. in the few short years that i have been at this i am already seeing overall improvement in my yard, and i assume this is partly due to the winnowing process.

i think you and i may have something special in the bees we keep. we are also fortunate to have a viable feral population contributing survivor genetics. my plan is to continue with queen rearing and nuc sales to the degree that time and resources permit. propagating and spreading those genetics to those who will hopefully do the same might make a dent. from what i have read of your posts lately it sounds like you are on the same track. if we are doing anything wrong it's not breeding enough of these bees.
 

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crosspost here and on Adamf's site.

I wanted to start a discussion around varroa tolerance and just what breeding value a given stock has. First some background. I have 10 colonies of bees that have not been treated in any way for varroa for 8 years. They are thriving and producing a decent crop of honey most years. I also distributed stock to a few other beekeepers and deliberately pushed swarms into the trees to boost the count of mite tolerant bees in the area.

Here are the nitty gritty questions that breeders should be able to contribute to. Just how much are these bees worth in a breeding program? Please think carefully and instead of talking about having mite tolerant bees, be a hard core pessimist and talk about why they do NOT have much value from a breeding perspective. After thinking about these issues, then apply the lessons to your own bees and breeding program. Those who sit back and read while rarely posting should be first in line on this. Your input would be most valued.

Why is this important? Because most of us are unrepentant optimists who always see things in a rosy light of unreality. The most important lessons I have learned were from a hardcore pessimist who questioned EVERYTHING. So instead of going all rosy and glib, get out a scalpel and do your very best to cut me to pieces. If you post some typical pablum rah rah cheerleading tripe, I will call you on it!!!!

Here are a few things to think about. I deliberately left at least a dozen more concerns open so someone else can nitpick.

1. 10 colonies? You've got to be kidding, just what impact do you expect to have with 10 colonies?

2. Just exactly what mechanism are they expressing to keep mite levels down? You don't know? How do you expect to make any progress if you are relying on "survival" as the only mechanism to determine mite tolerance?

3. So what about other economic traits? Do you rate your bees for performance? swarming tendency? wintering?

4. What about mite counts? You don't do mite counts? why not? wouldn't they confirm the bees are tolerant?

5. Are you relying on a single tolerance mechanism? brood breaks? vsh? allogrooming? reduced days to worker maturity?

6. Yeah, right, they work in North Alabama, but how would they stand up to Minnesota winters?

Why would anyone do such a thing as this? I call it "peer review". Anyone who has the gumption, feel free to describe what you are doing and I promise to do my best to cut you down to size too! :)
The problem with breeding, as with a lot of things in academia, is that we rely on indices, and often we come to rely on them so much that we forget what they actually represent and what their purpose and limitations are.

Mite counts? What do they mean? If the bees keep lower mite counts in the colony, but easily fall prey to the viruses they transmit, are they really better off? If they are hygienic, shorter maturity cycles and have all these good traits that are sought for, what is it all worth if they fail to survive? We can make up a whole ton of metrics (and indeed I think we should), but scoring high in these metrics shouldn't be the end in itself, for they are just tools to get the best bees one can.

Your bees might be great. They might not be, either, for a number of reasons already named (performance could be linked to habitat and/or practices, they could have a number of undesirable traits, and so on). One really can't say.
 

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How well do they pass on these traits in an open breeding program? If not very good, do 10 colonies really have enough genetic diversity to survive long term?
 

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Their value is priceless... to you, in your location, with your management practices as determined by your location and your goals.

If you were to send me 3 queens for testing, I'd be doubtful they would last through their first winter here, and if they made it through a second winter, I'd eat my hat (just and expression, eating my hat might get me really sick).

I've said many times to many people that LOCATION matters as much as any other factor in beekeeping. Some agree, some don't, and maybe many think I'm a kook. The variables inherent from location on beekeeping are many. I focus on two here in my location... flows and chemicals in the environment around me...

Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you... I have rice on the left, LARGE commercial yards to the right, and here I am, stuck in the middle with bees. The rice has no forage, and lot's of chemicals, the worst of which is the mosquito chemicals by air plane once a week for 3 months. Sure, they spray at dusk, through the time of year when a very large number of bees spend the night out in the fields and bring the spray back to the hives at sunrise the next morning... slow colony kill. The commercial yards are large and take all the forage in that direction. And, I have hot dry dearth from first of August on. No flows until middle February, if the weather cooperates, and even then as I've said, no flows for me or very little because of fore mentioned factors.

Do your bees have the stress that mine do? I doubt it. Mite tolerance is not just about genetics, it's also about the local environment and the bee hive stress in that environment, and about management practices. If I did not have the lack of flow stress, the chemical stress, and the long hot dearth stress, then I'm sure that treatment free beekeeping could be done here. As it is, I'm seriously doubting it.

Everyone reading, what stressors are in your environment? Do they contribute to hive health or loss in addition to the mites? Would the mites be better manageable by the bees with less stresses in your location environment?
 

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Fusionpower - I'm not quite sure what you are after, but I'll address the op - If you have no evidence that your mite resistant bees are mite resistant other than in your location and within your cultural practices then their mite resistant trait is pretty much worthless to anyone except you. Or someone who just wants to believe. If you want a dollar value then they are worth whatever someone will pay for them.

If they do happen to be something special - assuming that they are open mated - after 10 years 10 hives are probably not significantly different genetically from any other bees in your area.

Is there a point to this or did you start this thread just to generate opportunities to insult people?
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
David, no desire to insult anyone. I seriously want you and others to put your thinking caps on and really THINK about the problem of developing mite tolerant bees. Then if you choose, critique what I have done and point out the holes in the process.
 
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