Save the Bees: An interdisciplinary research approach to safeguard honeybees and their pollination services

Pollination services of honeybees are of central importance for the production of food and contribute towards the stability of ecosystems. For Australia, honeybee pollination is worth 4-6 billion Australian dollars annually and about a third of what we eat depends on bee pollination. Devastating declines are occurring in global honeybee populations and the extinction of bees in some regions of the world now requires pollination performed by humans. Australia has so far been spared the catastrophic losses seen elsewhere, but the beekeeping industry is increasingly struggling to keep managed bees in Australia.

The Centre for Integrative Bee Research (CIBER) is located at The University of Western Australia see www.ciber.science.uwa.edu.au for more information. CIBER is dedicated to facilitate interdisciplinary research on honeybees by offering a working platform for scientists to perform collaborative research on honeybees alongside industry partners. The ultimate goal is to better understand honeybees and counter or avoid losses in the future.

To achieve this CIBER combines knowledge from beekeepers with decades of experience, sociobiologists and their insights into the functioning of bee societies, evolutionary ecologists and their understanding of evolutionary processes and molecular biologists that provide expertise to harness the honeybee genome and proteome. Research conducted at CIBER is focused on three main themes: First, research is conducted to better understand the reproductive biology of honeybees, which is key to facilitate future bee breeding.

Second, because parasites are known culprits responsible for the losses of millions of bee colonies, the honeybee immune system and its interactions with bee pathogens is studied both on the molecular level as well as in the field. This is key to breed disease tolerant bees or to find novel ways to treat bee diseases in the future.

Third research is conducted to investigate the ecology of honeybees, especially to understand how environmental stresses such as for example, pesticide exposure impact colony health and performance. The aim of these research activities  is to identify causes of colony collapse and to develop tools that allow recognizing early onsets of decline in bee heath. CIBER also runs a highly successful outreach program to inform a broader public about honeybees and their importance and was key in the making of the theatrical documentary “More than Honey”.

Collaborator/s

  • Professor Paul Schmid Hempel, ETH
  • Professor Koos Boomsma, Copenhagen University
  • Professor William Hughes, Sussex University
  • Professor Patrice Rosengrave, University of Otago
  • Professor Li Janke, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences
  • Professor Andrew Barron, Macquarie University