Local bee race replacements in Lebanon: technical and economic feasibilities (2002)
American University of Beirut, P.O.Box 11-0236/FAFS, Beirut, Lebanon, Tel: (961) 3 546 723
* Ph.D. student at the University of Florida, USA
Apiculture offers a significant economic contribution to the agricultural welfare of countries rich in their floral cover such as Lebanon, in which such contribution is insufficient. An important factor underlying such insufficiency is the relative low productivity of the domestic honeybee race, Apis mellifera syriaca, when compared to other international races. This race is also spread over a number of countries in the region.
The current report addresses various factors related to local race replacement in Lebanon, including the adaptability of newly introduced races to local production conditions. There are many species of honeybees available, and a variety of economic races is found among these species. According to recent apicultural practices worldwide, the European bee Apis mellifera proved to bee the species that produces the largest amounts of honey. There had been many attempts by local beekeepers to introduce international races that belong to the European honeybee, such as the Italian race Apis mellifera ligustica and the Carniolan race Apis mellifera carnica. The introduction involved importing mated queens of the mentioned races and introducing them to domestic colonies. Unfortunately, most attempts generated temporary results, where colonies shifted back to the local race queens. The rejection of the introduced queens took two forms:
- The bees killed the queen introduced through a mailing cage by a "balling" reaction, after having her released from the cage.
- The queen was lost due to some reason and the bees have to rear another one. The reared queen would then mate with domestic drones.
The first form was mainly due to increased defensiveness of the domestic worker bees against the introduced queens. Not only had such behavior affected queen introduction processes, but also it had negative implications on current beekeeping activities. The following sections will further elaborate on this issue through both technical and economic assessments.
Race Replacement Procedures
Given the current spreading of the domestic race all over Lebanon, selecting another race to produce purely mated queens is hardly attainable. The reason is that the selected queens will be cross-mated with domestic drones found in the mating area. Therefore, any race replacement procedure has to start with the importation of colonies of the selected international races, along with mated queens. Yet cost considerations dictate the appropriateness of the procedure to be adopted.
Two methods were suggested in order to accomplish a successful and gradual replacement process.
- Colony Replacements
Over a five year period of studying behavioral differences of honeybee races including the local race, a better understanding of worker bee responses to queen introductions has been developed. While queenless colonies of races like the Italian, Carniolan and Carpathian (Apis mellifera carpathia) tend to readily accept introduced queens of different races, the local race tend to reject queens with such introductions. Consequently and after many failing attempts, some beekeepers have chosen instead to purchase colonies (nucleus colonies) that belong to selected international races. At the same time they went on assisting the purchased colonies with brood from domestic ones. This way they would end up with strong and vigorous colonies of the introduced races and weakened domestic ones. The only additional live bee requirements would be a continuos mated queen source.
- Double Caging of the Queen
This procedure involved introducing mated queens of selected races through mailing cages into a frame full of worker bees, brood and food stores. Simultaneously, the frame with the caged queen was introduced into a queenless domestic colony. After the queen was released from the mailing cage, she would be exposed together with bees on the frame to domestic worker bees in the colony. Afterwards, the queen would be released out of the frame cage to be established as the mother of the colony. This procedure would bring about relatively minimal modification and alteration to the existing physical structure of bee apiaries in Lebanon.
The procedure started as a field experiment conducted to introduce Italian queen bees into domestic colonies in the year 1998. The percentage acceptability of the Italian queen bees was recorded. The experiment was performed on fifty bee colonies over a period of 117 days and the results were as follows:
- 41 colonies showed successful acceptance of introduced queens
- 6 colonies showed failure in accepting introduced queens
- 3 colonies were considered missing data due to external factors
The above results indicated the degree of success of the conducted experiment, which could be utilized in local race replacement plans.
Examining the two procedures introduced earlier, relevant economic figures could be drawn as follows:
- In procedure 1, the cost of replacement was that of purchasing nucleus colonies along with mated queens for possible requeening and colony division processes. Still the resulting weakened domestic colonies constituted additional cost for the completion of the replacement process.
- In procedure 2, cage replacement expenditures included the cost of the frames together with the mated queens. Yet this procedure required additional labor for frame caging and introduction.
Conclusions and Discussion
Both procedures were found to be technically feasible, and their implementation would depend on the choice of local beekeepers. In addition, the two procedures required the availability of selected mated queens together with neclues colonies. These queens and colonies should be initially imported, and their numbers would be determined according to a set-up implementation schedule. After the establishment of a number of apiaries as a result of such implementation, the major concern would be the availability of mated queens when needed. This is particulary true in the short run of the implementation period.
Whether replacing whole colonies or introducing caged frames, subsequent steps should be taken to ensure a long-term nature of the measures adopted. For a country like Lebanon where beekeeping is generally based on a small production scale, an integrated plan is necessary for the proper implementation of a race replacement policy. Moreover, and in the absence of effective supervisory authorities for beekeeping, cooperation among beekeepers in different areas of the country is required. If replacement procedures are unanimously applied in areas large enough to maintain open mating of generated queens with selected drones, areas partially dominated with newly introduced races would result.
The future success of local race replacement plans in Lebanon will mainly depend on two factors:
- Availability of the technical requirements for replacement procedures.
- Cooperation among beekeepers in order to establish apiaries in areas dominated by selected bee races.
However, any replacement plan should take into consideration the following aspects:
- There is a need to further examine both desirable and unfavorable traits of the domestic race. In the regard, bee breeding programs that focus on such traits, especially those of potential improvements, should be developed.
- The adaptability of introduced bee races to local production conditions has to be further studied. The local performance of these races should be evaluated with a particular emphasis on the following parameters: Colony productivity, adaptation to local climatic conditions and resistance to diseases.
So far and based on limited observations, races like the Italian, Carniolan and Carpathian proved to be useful for Lebanese beekeeping. Yet scientifically based research pertaining to the issue should be carried out.