Early pest detection linked to eradication

Feb. 27, 2023 | 5 Min read
With a coastline of 60,000 kilometres and almost 30,000 commercial and recreational beekeepers, Australia offers a variety of pathways for exotic pests to enter the country and multiple opportunities for beekeepers to detect them.

With a coastline of 60,000 kilometres and almost 30,000 commercial and recreational beekeepers, Australia offers a variety of pathways for exotic pests to enter the country and multiple opportunities for beekeepers to detect them.

The detection of Varroa mite in the NSW Hunter region, Central Coast and more recently, NSW Mid North Coast demonstrates the scale of emergency plant pest responses and highlights the importance of industry and government working together to detect high priority pests.

One of the top 10 national priority pant pests, Varroa mite was detected through sentinel hive inspections as part of the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program (NBPSP), an early warning system to detect new incursions of exotic bee pests and support Australia’s pest freedom status.

The NBPSP is delivered by Plant Health Australia (PHA) and funded by 14 pollinator-reliant industries through Hort Innovation, with co-investment from the honey bee industry and Grain Producers Australia (GPA).

The program uses a range of surveillance methods conducted at high-risk seaports throughout Australia, considered to be the most likely entry points for bee pests and pest bees.

The NPBSP specifically targets nine exotic bee pests that could pose a significant threat to the honey bee population, and in turn those industries reliant on pollination services. Targeted pests include Varroa mites, Tropilaelaps mites, tracheal mites, and Asian bees such as Apis dorsata and Apis florea.

The almond and macadamia industries are reliant on honey bees for production and also support the NBPSP through investment by the Horticulture Innovation Australia’s Hort Frontiers Pollination Fund.

“Pollination services provided by honey bees can commonly achieve 90–100% nut set for almonds, and further support an increase in macadamia crop yield,” said Dr Jenny Shanks, PHA manager, bee biosecurity.

In New Zealand, Varroa mite has impacted hive health with demonstrated continuous increases in over-wintering colony losses, with up to 13.6% losses in 2021 (Stahlmann-Brown & Robertson, 2022). Estimated costs of these losses experienced by commercial beekeepers have been reported to be at least NZ$24,181,691 (Stahlmann-Brown, et al., 2022).

“This highlights the importance of surveillance activities to ensure hives are inspected regularly to detect pests early,” Dr Shanks said.

In recognition of the importance of honey bee hive surveillance and the impact of Varroa mite on a variety of industries, the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) has funded a national Bee Pest Blitz campaign. Due to kick-off in April, the campaign led by PHA and supported by the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council and all state and territory governments, will be an annual month-long call to action to encourage beekeepers to inspect their hives.

The campaign aims to create awareness of the importance of hive inspections, awareness of exotic pests, understanding of roles and responsibilities and shared culture in biosecurity, the recommended surveillance methods, record keeping and reporting of results.

This year’s pilot campaign will focus on encouraging beekeepers to perform alcohol washes. Alcohol washing is a quick an effective method to detect Varroa mites and can recover over 90% of Varroa mites present in a sample of bees if the method is followed. This rapid and simple surveillance technique requires very little equipment.

When performing an alcohol wash, a sample of bees is taken from the brood cluster and shaken in a solution for a set time, and any mites present in the sample die and detach from the bees.

“We encourage beekeepers to report completed alcohol washes to their state or territory departments of agriculture, to support national reporting,” Dr Shanks said.

“This is particularly important while Australia works toward eradicating Varroa mite.”

The Honey Bee Industry Code of Practice provides a framework for Australian beekeepers to use best-practice biosecurity measures. Under the Code of Practice beekeepers are required to inspect their hives twice per year, using a method that examines the presence of arthropod pests, including Varroa destructor and Tropilaelaps mites. By participating in Bee Pest Blitz, beekeepers will meet one of the two inspection requirements.

To further support the honey bee industry, the National Bee Biosecurity Program (NBBP), also coordinated by PHA, employs six bee biosecurity officers (BBOs) to assist beekeepers in meeting requirements under the Code of Practice, and they can assist with alcohol wash activities. In addition, the BBOs can also support pollination reliant industries if they have any questions regarding access to healthy hives.

More bee biosecurity information to support beekeepers is available on PHA’s website. Australian Almonds’ website has useful information for growers working with the honey bee industry and best management practices for honey bees.

Categories Bees and pollination

Read also

View all

Biological control for fruit fly

Bee a farming success

Beewise shows world’s first robotic beehive