The $4.1 Million Colony Health Grant: One Year Later

Bee Craft October 2009

Kim Flottum, Editor, Bee Culture

What progress has been made with the $4.1 million grant for hee health research?

The 4.1 Million Colony Health Grant-1

Seven static apiaries have been established where samples will be taken regularly and compared with samples from migratory beekeeping operations

ITS BEEN just over a year since USDA CSREES (United States Department of Agriculture Cooperative State Research Extension Education Service) awarded a $4.1 million grant to a group of university researchers for the express purpose of solving the current honey bee health problems confronting the beekeeping industry.

Without actually nailing it down, this was a project to look into the current Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) problem and, over four years, find out what was going on. However, at the same time the grant was to fund an extensive education programme for beekeepers : and to develop as much information as possible so beekeepers could keep their bees healthy and have a place to go for questions … and answers.

Moreover, 25% of the funds was to support the study of non-apis pollinators, such as bumblebees, alfalfa leaf-cutting bees and the like.

To date, this is the only government money to be distributed to beekeeping researchers to study this problem other than normal budgetary funds to keep the regular USDA projects up and running. These include several special projects funded some time ago and the Bee Research Laboratories, of course.


So what’s happened in a year? I’m glad you asked, because I wanted to know too, so I ventured to the University of Georgia in Athens to visit Dr Keith Delaplane, the leader of this large and varied group studying this large and varied problem.

According to Dr Delaplane, the grant is doled out in four annual increments of roughly $1 million, pending satisfactory progress on that year’s work, not in one lump. He suggested that readers visit to view the objectives, work plans and timetable for deliverables.

In this first year, each of the co-operators in the programme has hired the people they need to work with or brought on board the graduate students who will do the work or the post-doctoral students who will assist in the project.


Probably the biggest accomplishment so far, said Dr Delaplane, is the establishment of seven stationary apiaries to monitor honey bee health and the environment.

These apiaries, consisting of 30 colonies each, are in Maine, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Washington and California.

Each is administered by one of the researchers and will be managed using the techniques particular to its respective location. Bees in Minnesota will not be managed on the same calendar or with the same methods as those in Texas, for instance. Each area does have best management practices that reflect these differences and those will be followed.

However, constant across the apiaries is that each colony in each apiary will be sampled once a month for the duration of the study to look at what’s going on inside.


Samples of bees, honey and wax will be taken and measurements of bees and brood will all be recorded routinely.

The samples will go to a lab at Penn State to look for viruses and Nosema disease, to the University of Washington to count Nosema spores and tracheal mites, and to the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station to look at the pollen and wax samples for residues of agricultural pesticides.

At the same time, USDA scientists will be taking identical samples and doing identical counts from a series of migratory beekeeping operations. Samples and data will be identical from each apiary and each migratory operation and, at the end, the mountain of data will be easily comparable and very useful, said Delaplane.


Because this grant also covers non-apis bees (that is, bees that are not honey bees) identical samples will be taken from managed non-apis bees at each of the apiary sites. Scientists are looking for cross infections or other relationships. Other non-apis projects include looking at increasing the efficiency and reducing the stress of managed bumblebees when used for pollination.

The effects of the neonicotinoid pesticides on non-apis bees are also being studied, especially the sub-lethal effects and any effects from residues. This should be interesting.


Meanwhile, the Extension and Education part of this has moved along and in July the USDA added a large section on Bee Health to the existing extension website ( It is to be a one-stop shopping experience for agricultural information.

The honey bee health section is housed and administered from the University of Tennessee. All of the information that goes on this website, the bee page included, is well-researched, refereed work, with oversight by a large team of honey bee scientists.

There will be a Frequently Asked Questions section, an Ask The Expert section, Best Management Guides section and more, all coming from the Bee Health Community group.

This effort will be federally supported but all states will contribute with funds from their individual extension budgets. This may, over time I imagine, erode the personnel in each state’s Extension core. This is unfortunate, but at least there won’t be a vacuum left behind.

To view more, visit and be sure to check out the Resource Areas including the Bee Health area.


Investigating the genetic makeup of the varroa mite

University and USDA scientists in Texas and Indiana are looking at this from the molecular level, looking for those genes responsible for the varroa-sensitive hygienic behaviour.

This trait allows bees to detect larvae in capped cells with varroa mites present, and remove them. This keeps the mite population in check without chemicals. Moreover, once identified, queen producers will be able to certify that

their bees do have the gene and should exhibit that behaviour. This will definitely be a plus for those queen producers looking to provide quality queens to their customers.

Understanding honey bee viruses

Scientists at Penn State are doing cage studies with bees looking at the effects of individual viruses and then the effects of different viruses combined.

Untangling the health effects of Nosema

Many insect species suffer from different species of Nosema. One of the scientists is looking at this disease, while other scientists at Michigan and Kentucky are trying to produce honey bees with only a single problem –Nosema apis or Nosema ceranae but not other problems at the same time. Once isolated, they will then look at these diseases in combination with viruses and combinations of viruses.

Understanding the effects of miticides (pesticides)

Laboratory studies looking at the effects of individual miticides and the synergism of all of the miticides beekeepers use in a hive are being conducted in Nebraska.

Along the same lines, the effects of these chemicals on queen viability and drone sperm production are being studied.

Investigating the effects of farm pesticides

Agricultural chemicals have been blamed for much/ some/all/none of CCD -take your pick. However, that should be answered by studies looking at the effects of these on larvae and nurse bees.

That should be interesting, but the funding for this particular project is still on hold.

Rearing healthy queen bees

Think globally, but act locally is the theme for the work being done in Washington and New York.

Genetic diversity seems to be lacking, at least in some operations, because of the small number of commercial beekeepers producing queens. Thus, the thinking goes, more queen producers are needed and they should be more localised and regional rather than all coming from a central location.

Researchers will be setting up educational programmes to develop local and regional queen production operations to capitalise on the diversity of a lot of regions. However, first they have to find some, which is what they are doing now.


So, after year one, seven stationary apiaries are set up and running, along with migratory operations’ being sampled. A host of research projects have been started, or are almost there, and the extension web page, loaded with tons of Honey Bee Health Information, has been launched.

$4.1 million, one year later! 

[Our thanks to Kim for permission to reproduce this article which was originally published in Bee Culture, August 2009.]


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