PRELIMINARY trials have shown there to be a direct correlation between gut bacterial numbers in honeybees and the overall health of hives.
That is according to the latest research from the University of Canberra funded by AgriFutures Australia. While further testing needs to be carried out, the new methodology shows promise in preventing and minimising the impact of chalkbrood, a fungal disease that affects hive health and honey yields.
Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Canberra, Murali Nayudu, said that the latest results build on their previous research, a groundbreaking study that found bacteria could be reintroduced into the gut of diseased bees through probiotics.
"As a first step to assess the use of probiotics in bees, we needed to obtain more data on the natural variation of bee gut bacteria numbers in healthy bees over the four seasons," said Professor Nayudu.
"Our team set up two apiaries near Bega and Tharwa in New South Wales, with six hives in total. We consistently monitor these healthy hives for bacterial numbers."
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Associate Professor Nayudu said the team has developed specific methodologies for this project, which involves sampling multiple bees from each hive per time point, isolating bacteria from the bee gut and analysing bacterial numbers for individual bees. From this information, the health state of the hive can be determined.
"This particular method has meant that we could determine whether bees had healthy or low bacterial numbers, with the latter seen in bees from diseased chalkbrood-infected hives," Associate Professor Nayudu said.
"Sampling the gut bacteria of bees from a higher number of hives has enabled us to determine the overall health of an apiary, which could help predicting disease before any visual symptoms appear."
With more sampling to be done over winter, the research team will now start the second part of the project, conducting experiments involving chalkbrood control using probiotics.
"In our previous Australia-wide survey, we isolated a number of bacterial strains that showed strong anti-fungal activity against chalkbrood," Associate Professor Nayudu said.
"We are currently gathering a large number of chalkbrood-infected hives to set up different probiotic treatment groups, with the experiments to hopefully commence this spring."