Monitoring Hive Health * UPDATED Dec 2023 *

Vic Drought Hub - Farmland 1
  • Agriculture Victoria
  • AgtechHorticulture

This proof-of-concept project investigated whether traceability devices and environmental DNA (eDNA) surveillance could be used to monitor hive health

bees-frame-3-website Dr Jessi Henneken collecting samples with beekeeper and pollination specialist Trevor Monson and one of the growers involved in the project
Dr Jessi Henneken collecting samples with beekeeper and pollination specialist Trevor Monson and one of the growers involved in the project.

Update: December 2023

Project status: complete (August 2023)

Vic Hub partner organisation:  Mallee Regional Innovation Centre

 

Watch the project video series  Part 1: Monitoring beehive health and Part 2: Inside the hive

 

Monitoring honeybee hive health

 

Ag Vic has completed a project in collaboration with Vic Hub North-West Irrigated Horticulture Node lead, Mallee Regional Innovation Centre, to help ensure the health of honeybee hives.

 

 

 

 

Various agricultural crops rely on pollination from bees. Although Australia is free from many serious hive pests and diseases, there is a global risk of exotic introductions – especially considering the expanding range of pests due to climate change. Safeguarding our bees means monitoring their health to enable a rapid response, if and when desired. This proof-of-concept project was designed to investigate if traceability devices and environmental DNA (eDNA) surveillance could be used to monitor hive health.

About 500 insect species, 3,000 bacteria species and 800 fungi species were detected inside four honeybee hives that were moved to pollinate different crops across the Mildura region as part of a project focused on monitoring hive health.

Two videos showcasing the project and its findings are now available to watch on MRIC’s YouTube channel – Monitoring beehive health (part one) and Inside the hive (part two).

Agriculture Victoria research scientist Dr Jessi Henneken, who features in the videos, said the proof-of-concept project showed that hive health can be monitored using traceability devices and environmental DNA (eDNA) surveillance.

“Our bees in Australia are incredibly healthy, but to keep them that way we need to have systems in place that allow us to detect exotic incursions and respond to them quickly,” Jessi said.

bees-frame-4-website Environmental DNA sample collection
Environmental DNA sample collection.

“That is why this project is so important because we trialled two different monitoring systems that can be integrated with one another.

“The traceability system tracks hive movement and climate, so we can see where the hives have been and which hives might have been interacting.

“Then our eDNA surveillance, which involved collecting samples from the hives and taking them back to the lab to perform molecular tests, can tell us what pests and diseases are present in the hive. But we can also look for other measures of hive health, like beneficial species.”

Jessi said these surveillance systems could be valuable for apiarists and growers, ensuring that the hives on their properties are free of pests and diseases and the bees are in good condition to pollinate their produce.

“Our tests revealed an incredible amount of diversity in the beehives,” she said.

“We found some hive pests that are already established in Australia as well as some general insect pathogens. We also detected a range of beneficial species living in the hives, which means we can provide a really holistic view of the health of the hive.

“What was really interesting is that we found agriculturally significant species. So while bees are out foraging, they might encounter agricultural pests or bio-control agents and bring that DNA back to the hive, and our tests were so powerful they could detect it.

“Therefore, the benefits of this sort of surveillance for industry goes beyond ensuring the health of our hives. There is real potential for this data to be shared with growers so they can make decisions about management practices on their property.”

 

More information

Growers and apiarists can get in touch with the research team to provide feedback on the project as well as their needs and concerns regarding implementing these surveillance systems.

Project leads:
Professor Brendan Rodoni, Research Director, Agriculture Victoria
Dr Jessica Henneken, Research Scientist, Agriculture Victoria

Resources

  • Jessica Henneken’s presentation slides from the Innovation Showcase roadshow events held in Mildura, Euston and Swan Hill from 13–15 June 2023.
  • ABC news hour podcast with Dr Jessica Henneken
  • Eye on the hive, MRIC newsletter, August 2022