Beekeepers and leading bee experts have come together at The University of Western Australia to tackle the global decline of honeybees and the parasites that have the potential to destroy the industry.
Scientists from Australia, the United States and Chile helped local beekeepers at a weekend conference to identify, track and destroy parasites that put the vital bee population under threat.
QE II Fellow Dr Boris Baer, coordinator of the Collaborative Initiative for Bee Research (CIBER) located at UWA, said WA and Tasmania were now the only States in Australia that have not been infected with the deadly Nosema ceranae parasite.
"While WA is free of Nosema ceranae, all Australian States are infected with Nosema apis which infects the bee gut when its spores are swallowed and prevents bees from digesting food properly," Dr Baer said.
Dr Baer said the beekeepers were amazed when they were shown simple methods that they could recreate at home to identify the Nosema apis spores under a microscope and figure out if (and how badly) their hives were infected.
Different techniques were being trialled to kill the spore, Dr Baer said: "Unfortunately, chemical treatments which have been developed and used internationally have only resulted in breeding increasingly resistant parasites and weaker bees. Chemical treatments can also contaminate the honey and make it inappropriate for human consumption."
Also highlighted at the conference were non-chemical processes that stop the spread of disease in the hive such as through breeding programs and by keeping bees well fed and warm. Selected bees show natural resistance to parasites and disease, or exhibit extremely clean behaviour, both of which stop disease building up in the hive.
CIBER aims to intensify basic scientific research into honeybee reproduction, immunity and ecology with partners from the Australian bee industry to help the Australian industry avoid future dramatic losses of Australian honeybees as occurring elsewhere.