Australia’s stingless bees: Beekeepers’ best defense against deadly varroa mite?

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adult bee with varroa mites

Australia’s native stingless bees could be a key line of defense for the nation’s horticulture industry against the dangerous bee parasite Varroa destructor.

Professor Helen Wallace, from Griffith’s Environmental Futures Research Institute, said many in the industry are predicting it’s only a matter of time before the parasite enters the country.

“There is strong impetus to increase Australia’s resilience to the mite, and to develop contingency plans, as left unhindered it could cost between $627 million and $1.3 billion over 30 years,” Professor Wallace said.

Stingless bees are not targeted by the mite and are used successfully to pollinate some commercial species of fruit and nuts, such as macadamias, but their effectiveness as pollinators for a range of other plants remains uncertain.

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She is working with Professor James Cook, from Western Sydney University, on a four-year study funded by HORT Frontiers to learn more about the stingless bees and whether they could take up the slack if the European honeybee population collapsed.

DNA meta-barcoding will be used by the team to track the behavior of the bees and which flowers they visit. The process allows scientists to match the DNA of both the bees and trees and plants they have visited, so their journey can be pinpointed, from flower to flower.

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