Whole Bee Concept
Whole Bee Concept
Maintaining Genetic Diversity and Locally Adapted Bees
The danger of breeding for specific traits
The history of selective breeding is full of both successes and failures. Many a great breed became great when the overall health and usefullness was the criteria for selection. And many of those wonderful breeds were ruined when some specific trait became the "trait de jour". I hardly think it necessary to give a lot of examples of this since they are abundant in every domestic species. Dogs, cattle, horses, etc. have all suffered from this mentality of breeders. Let's pick one that seemed practical at the time. Herefords were bred for many years to be "compact". The thinking was that long legs were a waste of energy since you can't sell bone, just meat. So if cattle had short legs with more meat on them and less bone, the animal would be a higher proportion of meat and lower proportion of bone and therefore be more profitable. So for a century or more they were bred to be "compact". The breeding for compactness was a great success if you measure it by just that trait. The problem was when they succeeded the once hardy and self-sufficient cattle breed was suddenly beset by calving difficulties. Someone, shortly after started correlating leg length and calving difficulties and discovered that short legged cattle had more problems and long legged cattle had less. So now they discovered, after throwing away all of the long legged genetics, that they had backed themselves into a genetic corner. What they should have been breeding for was overall health (including ease of calving).
The appeal of selecting for very specific traits is that it seems so scientific. The problem is that it is not so scientific. Reality is that the genetic combinations that produce health, longevity, productivity etc. are not just one gene or one simple trait, they are a combination of many genes and many traits. The problem of breeding for specific traits is that you are not only missing the "forest for the trees" but you are missing the "forest for the" cells in the leaves on the trees. In other words you need to back up and get some perspective.
Danger of being too selective
"We're trying to ensure the failure of modern beekeeping by focusing too much on single traits; by ignoring the elements of Wildness; and by constantly treating the bees. The biggest mistake of all is to continue viewing mites and other "pests" as enemies that must be destroyed, instead of allies and teachers that are trying to show us a path to a better future. The more virulent a parasite is, the more powerful a tool it can be for improving stocks and practice in the future. All the boring and soul-destroying work of counting mites on sticky boards, killing brood with liquid nitrogen, watching bees groom each other, and measuring brood hormone levels---all done in thousands of replications---will someday be seen as a colossal waste of time when we finally learn to let the Varroa mites do these things for us. My own methods of propagating, selecting and breeding bees, worked out through many years of trial and error, are really just an attempt to establish and utilize Horizontal breeding with honeybees---to create a productive system that preserves and enhances the elements of Wildness. My results are not perfect, but they have enabled me to continue making a living from bees without much stress, and have a positive outlook for the future. I have no doubt that many other beekeepers could easily achieve these same results, and then surpass them."--Kirk Webster, What's missing from the current discussion and work related to bees that's preventing us from making good progress.
The other issue of being too selective is that you can create a bottleneck in the gene pool. Genetic bottlenecks can cause obscure problems to become common problems. Inbreeding fixes traits. The problem is that it fixes both good and bad traits. Fixing the bad traits can result in making these traits endemic to the population. Genetic bottlenecks also can eliminate lines that might be needed to survive the next "bee crisis".
A catastrophic example of this was the Irish potato famine. First of all there are thousands of varieties of potato and only a few are susceptible to the blight that caused the famine. Second, the potatoes were started by cutting eyes, which means that the potatoes were all clones of each other, with no genetic diversity from one potato to the next. So this genetic bottleneck led to the deaths of over a million people and the displacement of millions more. This is the danger of genetic bottlenecks.
Complexity of Success
The genetic combinations that lead to success are almost infinitely complex. The combinational analysis of what makes a gentle, productive, healthy bee is beyond our comprehension. But observing success is not beyond our comprehension.
Success may not even be genetic
The success of a hive is so complex that it may be we are actually choosing based on the genetics of the microbes in the hive or even misinterpreting success altogether.
Jay Smith shares this story in “Better Queens”
What we have bred for
We have bred bees that are not as healthy because propolis is part of their immune system.
We bred against hygienic behavior by breeding for perfect brood patterns.
We bred for longer gestation times (giving the Varroa an advantage) by breeding for larger bees.
We have bred bees that are reproductively challenged because of less drones, bigger drones, less swarming etc. giving the edge to the AHB or other wild bees
Basically almost everything we bred for was a bad idea.
What we should breed for
How do you assess?
Need them to at least have gone through one winter with that queen’s workers.
Need them to at least have gone through one flow with that queen’s workers.
Look at the big picture of health and good instincts. Not single traits.
Maintaining genetic diversity
Breeder queen in at least her 2nd year
Some of the great queen breeders such as Jay Smith had breeder queens that were 6 or 7 years old How can you assess a queen if you haven’t seen her offspring overwinter successfully and produce well?
Bees with a gambling problem
Bees are all gamblers. They have to rear brood ahead of the flow to have foragers for the flow. The ones that gamble big are the ones the win big. The ones that gamble big are also the ones that lose big. One theory is that you should breed from “average” bees instead of the "outliers" to avoid the big gamblers.
Maybe we make it too complicated
Copyright 2012 by Michael Bush