U of G Researcher Funded to Investigate Ontario Bee Loss

October 22, 2007 - News Release

A University of Guelph researcher has received nearly $278,000 to investigate the role parasites played in the severe loss of Ontario's honeybees last winter.

About 35 per cent of the province's bee colonies were mysteriously destroyed, costing Ontario's commercial beekeepers more than $5.2 million and crippling the industry.

Environmental biology professor Ernesto Guzman believes two specific parasites – varroa mite and Nosema ceranae – are among the main culprits behind the high winter mortality rates.

Nosema ceranae was discovered in Ontario only this past May and has been blamed for large colony losses in Europe.

"It may be one of the main factors in Ontario's colony loss," said Guzman. "But because it's so new, the prevalence of this parasite in the province and how it affects colony mortality have never been studied."

He will use the funding from the Ontario Beekeepers Association (OBA) to verify his suspicions. The OBA received $3 million from the province to fund researchers to look into the cause of the disaster and to compensate beekeepers.

The beekeeping industry hasn't suffered a loss of this magnitude in decades. In the areas that were hardest-hit including the Niagara, Ottawa, Durham and Halidmand-Norfolk areas, some beekeepers lost 100 per cent of their colonies.

Guzman said most of the research funding is being used to buy necessary laboratory equipment and establish molecular diagnostic techniques to positively identify and study the new parasite.

As part of the research project, he will be running a series of experiments at several apiaries across Ontario to look at the relationship of the new parasite to colony mortality. He will also be investigating where Nosema ceranae infection levels are higher and how the levels vary throughout the year.

In addition, Guzman will examine the levels of varroa mites at several apiaries and monitor what impact the parasite has on colony performance and mortality and how parasite levels change depending on the season.

He expects to wrap up the project by the end of the summer.

“With the results of this study, we will know where these parasites are in Ontario, and we'll be able to recommend measures to control them if needed and to establish preventive measures and treatment calendars.”

Guzman's research is also funded by Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs' New Directions program.

Prof. Ernesto Guzman
Department of Environmental Biology
519-824-4120, Ext. 53609

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Deirdre Healey, 519-824-4120, Ext. 56982.

University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1