Surveillance program safeguards honey bee healthBiosecurity
This article was first published in AFG magazine – Autumn 2022
Healthy bee populations depend on surveillance for exotic pests.
Despite having serious pest threats on our doorstep, Australia has one of the healthiest honey bee populations in the world. With over 29,000 registered beekeepers who own approximately 668,000 hives, this is no mean feat.
Australia’s geographic location, a world-class biosecurity system and programs such as the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program (NBPSP) safeguard the industry from high priority pests that devastate honey bee industries overseas.
The five-year National Bee Pest Surveillance Program (NBPSP), which concluded in December 2021, was a large industry-government partnership jointly funded by Hort Innovation, the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC), Grain Producers Australia (GPA), the Australian Government and state and territory governments.
Volunteer beekeepers also made significant contributions to deliver activities and at a national level, Plant Health Australia (PHA) coordinated and administered the program.
“Freedom from exotic pests is a vital part of the future profitability and sustainability of Australia’s honey bee industry and the NBPSP set out to provide alerts for any new pests and diseases to give us the best chance of maintaining healthy bee populations,” said Dr Sharyn Taylor, National Manager Surveillance and Diagnostics at PHA.
The NBPSP is an early warning system that uses a range of surveillance methods at 32 seaports and airports throughout Australia, since these are the most likely entry points for bee pests and pest bees.
Some of the surveillance tactics to detect pests include live (sentinel) hives monitored for pests and diseases, swarm and nest capture, floral sweep netting, and sample collection for virus and mite diagnostics.
“Sentinel hives with established colonies of European honey bees were regularly assessed for the presence of pests such as Varroa mite,” said Dr Taylor.
“By the end of 2021, the program monitored the health of bees in more than 160 sentinel hives located in high-risk ports around Australia’s seaboard.”
The project featured several highlights including the successful development of molecular diagnostics for exotic viruses, as well as the development of a National Diagnostic Protocol by CSIRO’s Research Scientist, Dr John Roberts.
“Surveillance for exotic bee viruses commenced in 2017 and over this period at least 230 samples of adult bees have been tested for the five virus strains each year, generating over 5,100 surveillance points. No viruses were detected during this period,” said Dr Jenny Shanks, PHA’s Manager Bee Biosecurity and Surveillance.
Another highlight was delivery of tracheal mite diagnostics nationally. Tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi) is a microscopic, white coloured, internal mite of the honey bee respiratory system, capable of infecting queen bees, drones and worker bees.
Tracheal mite infects and reproduces inside the tracheae (breathing tubes) of the honey bee and feeds on the honey bee’s haemolymph (blood). Since 2016 at least 29,700 individual bees have been dissected and examined with no detection of tracheal mites.
“The best tool at present to detect tracheal mites is through dissection and microscopic examination, which is a highly labour-intensive method, requiring specialist skills” said Dr Shanks.
The program engaged the expertise of apiary officers in state and territory departments as well as hobby beekeepers. Awareness training about exotic bee pests were conducted and volunteer beekeepers were shown how to conduct routine surveillance on their hives.
“The successful conclusion of the NPBSP program has been a collective effort and we recognise the surveillance activities undertaken by the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments and national volunteers,” said Dr Taylor.
The Australian Government National Border Surveillance teams have also been instrumental in the surveillance of cargo at ports on arrival, as part of their national responsibilities. These teams have provided input into the NBPSP, its methodologies, and provided Commonwealth data into the national system.
A new three-year National Bee Pest Surveillance Program (NBPSP) was announced in December 2021. Funded by Hort Innovation, AHBIC and GPA, in collaboration with State and Territory governments, PHA will continue to coordinate the program and ensure Australia has the best early warning system in place to protect our valuable bee health status.
Acknowledgements: The five-year National Bee Pest Surveillance Program (NBPSP), which concluded in December 2021, was a large industry-government partnership jointly funded by Hort Innovation, the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC), Grain Producers Australia (GPA), the Australian Government and state and territory governments.