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Beekeeping IPM

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) incorporates multiple tactics to reduce pest populations while being sensitive to both economics and environmental impacts. The approach integrates multiple tools to find the most effective, least intrusive solution to problems. Because eradication is rarely possible, pests should be managed to reduce their negative effects. The overall goal is to improve colony health while reducing dependence on pesticide use. It is not necessarily the same as organic pest control, but many of the same tactics can be employed using strict organic methods.

The concept of IPM was developed in response to over-use of pesticides in agriculture, and the tendency to use these products on a calendar schedule regardless of the presence of economically important pests. A combination of IPM tactics reduces the impact of pests, and reduces the impact of pesticides on non-pest species. It makes economic sense to treat only when and where pests are a problem. IPM also preserves treatment products for future use by delaying the development of pesticide resistance within pest populations.

The concept of Integrated Pest Management can be illustrated with a pyramid. Understanding the biology and life cycle of a pest is the foundation for disrupting its reproduction and limiting the damage it can cause. Also, determining the level of pest or disease present, as well as where it is most likely present, is important for making treatment decisions Therefore accurately sampling the pest population is key to IPM

Integrated Pest Management Pyramid. At the base is Identification and Understanding Pest, next is Cultural Controls and Sanitation, then Physical and Mechanical, then Biological, and then Chemical. As you go from the base to the top you are looking at prevention methods first until the top where you are looking at intervention methods. As you get to the top of the pyramid, you have increasing bee stress, but decreasing beekeeper labor. This pyramid indicates that it is easier on the beekeeper to intervene with bee issues, but this comes with increasing bee stress. For this reason, it is harder on the beekeeper, but better for bee health to prevent issues before they arise.

The IPM pyramid emphasizes the prevention of pest problems rather than intervention after problems arise.

Cultural controls include beekeeping practices that reduce stress and improve bee health. This begins with placing hives in a suitable environment. Also, management decisions to split, combine, or requeen hives will affect the brood population, and ultimately the mite population. Diseases that affect only larvae can also be disrupted by breaking the brood cycle in a colony.

Physical and mechanical controls include any improvements or modifications to hive equipment that prevent or exclude pests, or actively trap pests that have entered the hive. These include screen bottom boards to eliminate fallen mites, and various in-hive traps for small hive beetles. Activities such as drone-trapping of varroa mites, and keeping hives in good physical repair to prevent the ingress of beetles, wax moths, and robbing bees are also important components of physical control.

Biological control includes the selection of genetic stock that can tolerate or resist mites or diseases, as well as nematodes to control small hive beetles pupating outside the hive. Biological control research for mites has focused on fungal and microbial pathogens and the use of mite predators, but delivery and application of these organisms is often difficult. Unfortunately no practical biological control agent for varroa mites has yet been found.

Reducing pesticide use is the goal of IPM, and so chemical control, at the top of the pyramid, is the smallest tier. When selecting medications and pesticide treatments for in-hive use, consider materials with high specificity for mites but low toxicity to bees, and little potential for chemical residues to be left behind.

The base of the IPM pyramid emphasizes prevention, while tactics near the top emphasize intervention. While chemical treatment may seem like the easiest solution, these products can also cause physiological stress on colonies. Regularly evaluating hives involves labor, but beekeepers should remain aware of colony conditions and keep pest and disease levels low throughout the season to minimize the need for chemical intervention.

There are many sources of stress that affect honey bee health. Reducing the impact of these hive stressors at every level, and all season long, will result in stronger, more productive colonies with healthier bees that will be better able to take care of themselves.

Parasites and Pathogens

A primary enemy to honey bees is a complex of damaging parasitic mites and the viruses they can transmit. Outbreaks of other pathogens, including bacteria and fungi, can also affect bee health. Overuse of medications causes mites and bacteria to develop resistance to medications, which makes them harder to control. Beneficial microbes inhabit the digestive system of honey bees and competitively exclude pathogens. These beneficial microbes may be negatively affected by medications or environmental pesticides.

Honey Bee Nutrition

The availability of quality food in the landscape affects honey bee health. High floral diversity throughout the year supports the healthiest bees. Natural environments continue to be replaced by heavily managed landscapes. Urban areas often have limited or reduced floral resources while the number of urban beekeepers continues to increase. Agricultural areas may offer large areas of forage, but with severely limited diversity, and high potential for pesticide exposure.

Pesticides and Pollution

Both agricultural and urban areas contain risks of chemical exposure to foraging bees. The dangers of these products varies with the toxicity of the ingredients, formulations, application procedures, and drift onto non-target areas. Outside contamination of hive products (wax, honey, or pollen) is possible, but the highest levels of detectable contaminants come from products applied in the hive by beekeepers. Over-use of miticides and antibiotics within the hive, as well as the misuse of legal products and the off-label use of non-approved chemicals all have effects on bee health.

Climate and Weather

Climate and local weather conditions affect the bloom period and food available for honey bees. Long-term changes in climate and weather patterns will have significant effects on bee health due to changes in resource availability. Unusually wet periods mean that bees cannot fly out to forage, reducing stored resources. Bees consume more resources than they are gathering during periods of prolonged drought. Unusually warm winters lead to increased bee activity and brood rearing during months with little or no floral resources, potentially depleting winter stores early, and causing late winter mortality.

Beekeeper Practices

Beekeepers need to make conscious choices to reduce colony stress from all sources. They should actively monitor and manage varroa mites and other hive pests and diseases throughout the season Ensure that bees have access to sufficient quality forage or provide supplemental food when necessary. Locate hives in areas protected from pesticide drift, and keep hives in good physical repair.

honeycomb pattern with bees