Impacts of the most significant honeybee research in Australia on the beekeeping industry (2002)
Bruce White
Technical Specialist (Apiculture)
New South Wales Agriculture
Locked Bag 11 Windsor NSW 2753 Australia
Tel: 61 02 4577 0600
Fax 61 02 4577 0650

Australia has a significant apiculture industry with commercial beekeeping widespread across the whole country, honey can be produced for twelve months of the year by the migration of colonies.

About 70-80 per cent of honey produced is from native flora, especially eucalypts growing on public, Crown leasehold and freehold land. The flora are diverse, growing as heathland and mallee eucalypts on coastal plains and in semi-arid regions of Australia, through medium rainfall to subalpine regions and rainforests of Tasmania, northern New South Wales and Queensland.

Australia produces about 31,000 tonnes of honey a year with an estimated gross value of production of about US$25.8 million. Domestic consumption is approximately 15,000 tonnes a year and the remainder is exported in pre-bulk form, making Australia the world’s fourth largest exporter of honey. It is estimated that the gross value of production, including queen and package bees, beeswax, pollen and pollination, was US $34.2 million. In addition, the value of pollination to the Australian economy has been estimated at between US$315.8 million and US$0.63 billion.

There are approximately 800 commercial beekeepers in Australia and several thousand part-time or hobby beekeepers.

Funding for research comes from various sources, the most significant being an industry levy on honey sales, with matching funds provided by the Federal Government. The Honey Research Act 1980 established a statutory levy to fund research and development activities for the beekeeping industry.

Research administration is covered by the Primary Industries and energy Research and Development Act 1989.

On 1st July 1995, the former Honeybee Research and Development Council became a committee of the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. The budget is $460,000 for 2001 to fund continuing and new projects.

Mission Statement
The Honeybee Research and Development Committee will support innovative and focused research and development projects, which will contribute to the productivity and profitability of the Australian beekeeping industry.

A five-year plan covers the following areas:

  • Bee husbandry and management
  • Diseases and pests
  • Nutrition
  • Genetic improvement
  • Income diversity
  • Resources
  • Pollination
  • Off farm issues
  • Communication and extension

Universities, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, State and Commonwealth Governments and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and other funding agencies also provide sources of funding for research. This paper will give the results of a small number of the research projects carried out in Australia and the projects approved by the Honeybee Research and Development Committee for 2002.

Varroa jacobsoni is more than one species
D L Anderson and J W H Trueman

Varroa jacobsoni was first described as a natural ectoparasitic mite of the Eastern honeybee (Apis cerana) throughout Asia. It later switched host to the Western honeybee (A. mellifera).

The researchers demonstrated that varroa jacobsoni is a complex of at least two different species. In a new classification V.jacobsoni is here redefined as encompassing nine haplotypes (mites with distinct mtDNA CO-I gene sequences) that infest A.cerana in the Malaysia-Indonesia region. Included is a Java haplotype specimens of which were used to first describe V.jacobsoni at the beginning of this century. A new name V.destructor n.sp.. is given to six haplotypes that infest A.cerana on mainland Asia. Adult females of V. destructor are significantly larger and less spherical in shape than females of V.jacobsoni and they are also reproductively isolated from females of V.jacobsoni. The taxonomic positions of a further three unique haplotypes that infest A.cerana in the Philippines is uncertain and requires further study.

Other studies show that only two of the 18 different haplotypes concealed within the complex of mites infesting A.cerana have become pests of A.mellifera worldwide. Both belong to V.destructor and they are not V.jacobsoni. The most common is a Korea haplotype so-called because it was also found parasitizing A.cerana in South Korea. It was identified on A.mellifera in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.Less common is a Japan/Thailand haplotype, so-called because it was also found parasitizing A.cerana in Japan and Thailand. It was identified on A.mellifera in Japan, Thailand and the Americas.

Results imply that the findings of past research on V.jacobsoni are applicable mostly to V.destructor. Results will also influence quarantine protocols for bee mites and may present new strategies for mite control.

This was done by Australian researchers and is more outstanding in view of the fact Australia is the only continent in the world free of varroa species.

To Develop a set of Guidelines for the Commercial Production of Honey as a Therapeutic Agent
Dr Craig Davis
The recent registration of Jellybush honey as a “Drug” with the Therapeutic Good Administration (TGA, the National drug registration body) has been the project highlight. In December 1999, Capilano Honey Limited completed the registration of their product – “Medihoney” – which is pure, sterile Leptospermum honey packaged in a 50gm tube and promoted as a “high-potency antibacterial honey”. The listing of this product (TGA# AUST L69532) is the first of its kind in the world, and represents an acceptance of the therapeutic benefit of natural products by the TGA.

The routine screening of honeys from apiarists and processors has continued at the Centre for Food technology where over 4000 honeys have now been screened. An area in northern New South Wales has repeatedly produced the “active” honey. Recent testing has suggested that at least one further area with floral-derived activity may have been identified. It is likely that beekeepers will submit samples of honey from a wider range of geographical sites as the returns from the commercialisation of the “active” Leptospermum honey are further realised.

Beekeepers are now receiving a premium in excess of 10 times the traditional price for these Leptospermum honeys if they are identified as florally – “active”.

This research work found a honey that was previously considered of little value because of its thick atrophic or jellying characteristics. The publicity received in Australia has also helped increase the rates of pre-pack honey on the Australian market.

Development of Remote Sensing, Beehive Production Status Monitoring System
Dr Robert Hannah, Mr Col Peak, Mr Peter Stace, Mr Bruce White
This research project was carried out on the north coast of New South Wales. Theresearchers adopted remote sensing systems used in other industriestomonitor andrecord bee hive weights. This was achieved by the use of a load cell onto which one ormore hives could be placed and a datarecorder to record the weight on a daily basis.Other information can also be collected to give the beekeeper additional information about conditions for bees in the area such as temperature, rainfall and wind speed on a daily basis.

Using a modem linked to a mobile or landline phone and computer, the information is then transferred via the computer software for the beekeeper to access on the computer screen and/or print out.

The software was developed to stand-alone with ease of use. Costs including a computer is about US$3,700 to weight five hives.

The monitoring of beehive’s condition in the field takes up a large part of a beekeepers time and resources, colonies are often 200km from the owners home base for half of each year in Australia. Remote monitoring of hives weight will measure the gain in bees, honey and pollen.

Introduction and Performance of Queen Bees Introducting Apiary Status and Post Introduction Results
John Rhodes and Graham Denney
This project aimed to identify critical areas in queen bee production and introduction, that may be contributing to low acceptance and poor early performance being reported with commercially reared queen bees.

Beekeepers have not been satisfied with the introduction success rate and early performance of commercially reared queen bees for a number of years.

Queen bees from five commercial queen bee breeders produced in spring and in autumn were introduced into honey production apiaries belonging to three commercial beekeepers. Survival rates of test queens and older control queens were monitored at 4- week intervals for 16 weeks. Data considered critical to the survival and performance of test and control queens were recorded.

A significant loss of 30% of spring reared queens occurred compared to a loss of 13% of autumn reared queens. Control queen losses were 17% during the spring trial and average of 5% for the autumn trial. The age of the queen at introduction, numbers of spermatozoa stored in the queen’s spermatheca, Nosema disease, physical damage to the queen during transport, and external hive conditions were identified as factors, which may have contributed to the queen bee failures.

Further trial work investigated survival rates of commercially reared queen bees introduced into commercial honey production apiaries when the queens being introduced were 7, 14, 21, 28 and 35 days of age. The minimum age at which queen bees should be caught from mating nuclei lies between 28 and 35 days, this provided the premium survival after 15 weeks of 66.25% (60% when queens caught at 28 day and 72.5% when queens caught at 35 days).

This project is continuing and has lead to more beekeepers requeening colonies in the autumn and commercial queen breeders catching queens from nucleus colonies at between 28 and 35 days so the purchased queens have a better chance of survival.

Assessing Effectiveness of Shaking Bees and Anitibiotic Therapy Strategies
Michael Hornitzky, Bruce White
One hundred and one hives in five apiaries under field conditions were used to determine whether the technique of shaking bees is an effective alternative American foulbrood (AFB) control strategy. Five shaking treatments were used. None of the treatments was 100% successful. The most successful treatment appeared to be shaking bees onto foundation with one dose of oxytetracycline hydrochloride (OTC). Of the 29 hives treated in this way 19 (65.5%) were successfully treated although the adult bees from one hive still carried Paenibacillus larvae (ABF) spores at the end of the trial. Two hives (6.8%) developed AFB and 8 (27.6%) died out. The second most successful treatment appeared to be shaking bees onto foundation with OTC treatment where 10 (41.7%) of 24 hives were successfully treated although the adult bees from two of these hives also carried P.larvae spores. However, 2 (8.3%) developed AFB and 12 (50.0%) died out. Of the 32 hives, which had been prepared by shaking bees onto irradiated equipment and one OTC treatment 14 (43.8%), were successfully treated. Three hives (9.4%) developed AFB and 15 (46.9% died out. (The dead hives had either absconded just after treatment, queens had failed or the bees were unable to establish a viable colony and starved out). One beekeeper mistakenly killed 6 hives, which were shown to carry P.larvae spores on their adult bees.

After five hives were treated by shaking bees onto irradiated material without antibiotic treatment, two hives developed AFB. This treatment had the least chance of being successful and was therefore discontinued. The treatment protocol of shaking bees onto irradiated material followed by three OTC treatments was also discontinued after the first trial involving five hives. This action was taken as three treatments one week apart seemed impractical under Australian conditions due to the migratory nature of most Australian commercial beekeepers. Interestingly, one of the five hives treated in this way developed AFB.

AFB developed at varying times in the test apiaries. In one apiary AFB developed in hives after 3 months, 12 months, 14 months and 17 months after the shaking procedure. No further examinations were carried out after the 17-month examination. This indicates that further breakdowns could have occurred after this date. Further hive examinations were beyond the scope of this study. In fact more colonies broke down after the trial finished. A new dimension used in this study was the culture of adult bees for P.larvae spores. In general these test showed that the bees taken from AFB diseased hives were heavily contaminated with P.larvae spores and that this spore contamination could be detected in some hives up to 14 months after the shaking treatment. Three of the remaining 46 hives at the end of the trial had adult bes, which were infected with P.larvae spores. There is no doubt that three treatment methods: (a) shaking bees on to foundation (b) shaking bees onto foundation with one OTC treatment and (c) shaking bees onto irradiated material with one OTC treatment can successfully eliminate AFB in some hives. However, it is not certain how many more hives would have broken down with AFB had hive examinations been continued. This uncertainty, coupled with the fact that one or more hives developed AFB in each shaking treatment procedure, and 39 (41.1%) of the remaining 95 trial hives (6 had been mistakenly killed by a beekeeper) died, indicates that shaking bees and antibiotic therapy is not an effective alternative AFB control strategy. Australia burns hives of American foulbrood and or irradiates material.

Floral Resource DataBase for the NSW Apiary Industry
Doug Somerville
Beekeepers with 200 or more hives registered with NSW Agriculture were surveyed for the purpose of collecting information on floral species of major importance to the beekeeping industry, including data on honey and pollen values, land tenure, location of sites, frequency of flowering and flowering period. Information was also collected on number of hives, nucleus colonies, yield per hive, total number of bee sites on various land tenures, persons employed and gross income distribution.

A total response of 81% was achieved, with a lower response for the group with 200-400 hives of 65%, to a 100% response for the group with 1501-2000 plus hives. Results, in point form, are as follows.

  • There are 250 beekeepers with 200-400 hives, whereas there are only 163 beekeepers in the remainder of the commercial beekeepers owning 401-2000 plus hives. The total number of hives for all beekeepers surveyed was approximately 200,000 hives.
  • The majority of beekeepers operated nucleus colonies in their beekeeping operation. The two groups who gave the greatest response indicating that they did not manage nucleus colonies were 30% of the group with 200-400 hives and 30% of the group with greater than 1000 hives.
  • Average honey yields per hive per year increased with number of hives managed, with a production figure of 62kg/hive for the 200-400 group, increasing to 111 kg/hive for the 801-1000 hive group. The average across all groups was 89.4 kg per hive per year.
  • There was a considerable movement of beehives across state borders.
  • An estimated 627 persons are actively employed in commercial beekeeping in NSW. This is the equivalent of 339 hives per person, although this will include persons working in other components of the beekeeping business rather than just those working beehives.
  • The majority of beekeepers relied on honey production for the bulk of their gross income. Beeswax produced less than 10% of their gross income.
  • Income derived from pollination was stated by 60 beekeepers (19% of the respondents). The majority of this group indicated that gross income from pollination was less than 25%.
  • Gross income from package bees, comb honey and queen bee production was generally of lower importance.
  • There were 23,479 bee sites. This figure includes adjusted number to include nonrespondents. Adjusted bee site numbers for each land tenure are: 5,365 State Forests, 412 National Parks and Wildlife Service, 749 Crown Lands, 2,972 Rural Lands Protection Boards and 13,981 for private property.
  • The top 10 primary floral species of importance to beekeeping in NSW are Patersons Curse, Yellow box, Grey ironbark, Spotted gum, Canola, Red Stringybark, River Red Gum, Mugga, White box, and White Clover.

The results obtained give a clear picture of the significant floral resources of NSW relating to beekeeping. This information will be used to illustrate the floral species of major importance on each land tenure, and the characteristics of those floral resources as far as beekeeping activities are of concern. The information collected can also be utilised by various land managers and planners to take beekeeping requirements into consideration. The information will be of considerable benefit to those in the scientific community studying nectarivors and/or the general flowering characteristics of a range of floral species in the NSW landscape. Similar databases were carried out in all Australian states using research funding.

Research funds have been used to produce reports on completed projects, videos on Chalk Brood Diseases of Bees, Bee Parasites Exotic to Australia, Endemic Bee Diseases and Package Bee Production in Australia. Two compact discs are also available one on pollination and the other contains a comprehensive set of all research projects undertaken in Australia since 1980. It has been developed using the latest electronic software, which makes it very user friendly.

New Projects to be funded in 2001/2001
By the Honey Bee Research and Development Committee

research australia

By a levy on honey sales and dollar for dollar matching government funding, Australia is able to carry out research into all aspects of beekeeping, researchers are very dedicated as indicated by the standard of research that has been carried out. This paper gives details of only very few research projects undertaken in Australia. For further information contact

Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation
PO Box 4776
Kingston ACT 2604 Australia
Phone: 61 02 6272 4818
Fax: 61 02 6273 5877


  1. Anderson DL. Trueman JWH Varroa jacobsoni (Acari:Varroidae) is more than one species Experimental and Applied Acarology 24: 154-189, 2000.
  2. Davis C To develop a set of guidelines for the commercial production of honey as a therapeutic agent, RIRDC Project No DAQ-232A
  3. Hannah R, Peak C, Stace P, White B Development of remote sensing beehive production status monitoring system, RIRDC Project No DAN-1235A.
  4. Hornitzky M, White B Controlling American foulbrood, assessing effectiveness of shaking bees and antibiotic therapy strategies RIRDC Project No DAN-176A.
  5. Somerville D Floral resource database for the NSW apiary industry RIRDC Project No DAN-155A.