Photo: Dr. Ethel Villalobos
A little-known fact is that one of Hawai‘i’s most lucrative
agricultural exports is queen bees. The Islands’ favorable climate and absence
of many pests and diseases of bees make them a natural place to nurture bee
queens, which sell for up to $25 each on the Mainland and internationally.
However, due to quarantine laws, importing bees to the Islands is not possible.
This makes it even more crucial to safeguard the bees already here, which is
where CTAHR comes in.
Honeybees pollinate many tropical fruits and nuts and are
key pollinators for vegetable crops, including cucurbits such as melons,
squash, and cucumbers—$200 million worth of crops statewide. However, large
colony losses experienced recently on O‘ahu and the Big Island have awakened
concern for the preservation of honeybee populations and the sustainability of
bee dependent fruit, nut, and vegetable production in Hawai‘i.
Graduate student Scott Nikaido and Dr. Ethel Villalobos suit
up to check honeycombs in a research hive.
The UH Honeybee Project researches honeybee colony health
and pest-management strategies, crop-pollination needs, and the development of
“pollinator-friendly” farms. It provides information to beekeepers and farmers
about sustainable methods for pest control, encourages newcomers to beekeeping,
provides advice to growers who require bees for their crops, and is developing
a pilot pollinator curriculum for elementary school children. The group’s goal
is to teach beekeepers and growers how to keep bees using organic methods, find
alternative farming practices that reduce pesticide input, and promote
Research conducted by the Honeybee Project has helped to
develop a new formic acid-based miticide that has successfully reduced the
spread and effects of the Varroa mite, a devastating parasite of the honeybee
pest. CTAHR’s bee team evaluated the efficacy of this new bio-pesticide in
collaboration with local beekeepers, the manufacturer, and HDOA. Hawai‘i’s
beekeepers are now leading the way at a national level in the use of
non-synthetic chemicals to control the destructive mite.
Most recently, the Honeybee Project has been focusing on the
health of the pollinator community as a whole. While diseases and pests can be
mitigated in managed bees, they have decimated feral honeybees, which
historically pollinated the majority of crops in Hawai‘i, and the Bee Project’s
researchers are now working to protect native pollinators as well.