Overstocking is stressful for bees too

by | Feb 17, 2022 | News

Overstocking continues to be a concern for beekeepers. Plant & Food Research has been grappling with how to test the carrying capacity that any environment might have for honeybee colonies (i.e., stocking rate). Being able to identify when an area is overstocked would be useful to not only beekeepers but land managers and regulatory agencies as well.

The concept of overstocking is very different for honeybees than traditional stocking rates of other livestock (e.g., pasture can sustain 2.84 dairy cows per hectare). The amount of nectar and pollen available for honeybees is highly variable between patches of land. This makes it almost impossible to have stocking rates similar to the optimal number of dairy cows per hectare.

Scientists at Plant & Food hypothesise that honeybees that are in an area that is overstocked will experience physiological stress that can be detected early in the season, allowing beekeepers the opportunity to take action to decrease stress and therefore increase honey productivity from their colonies.

To begin testing indicators of stress, Plant & Food managed colonies in conditions with very low and very high colony densities and collected samples over eight weeks. This work is a part of Revati Vispute’s masters’ thesis research in collaboration with the University of Auckland. Revati is busy processing hundreds of samples to determine if changes in glycogen reserves, metabolic rate, male reproductive output, and/or heat shock protein production correlate with density-related stress.

Her goal is to define indicators of density-related stress that can be identified well before the honey flow has ended, and overstocking is inferred from low honey yields per colony. Revati will be completing her master’s thesis in 2022, and will share her findings at the upcoming Apiculture New Zealand conference.

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