The U.S. ban on the importation of bees in 1922 to ward off a tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi) further aggravated the genetic bottleneck.  Today the No. 1 enemy of the beekeeping industry is the parasitic Varroa mite (Varroa destructor), which has played a major role in the crippling decline of the U.S. honey bee population.

Found in virtually all bee colonies in the United States, it feeds on bee blood, can transmit diseases, and generally weakens the bee immune system.

What’s being done?  “In the U.S. the recognized need to increase genetic diversity and strengthen selection programs of commercial breeding stocks has resulted in collaborative efforts among universities, government researchers, and the queen industry,” according to Cobey, Sheppard and Tarpy.  “The current challenges facing the beekeeping industry and new technologies being developed are pushing beekeeping into a new era.”

To increase genetic diversity in the U.S. honey bee gene pool, Cobey and Sheppard are importing honey bee germplasm or semen of several subspecies of European honey bees and inseminating virgin queens of domestic breeding stock.  They are also working on diagnostic programs to assist beekeepers to assess colony health and to evaluate commercial breeding stocks.

Cobey, who teaches queen-bee rearing classes and queen bee instrumental insemination at UC Davis and WSU, joined UC Davis in May 2007.  Her research focuses on identifying, selecting and enhancing honey bee stocks that show increasing levels of resistance to pests and diseases. Cobey developed the New World Carniolan stock, a dark, winter hardy race of honey bees, in the early 1980s by back-crossing stocks collected from throughout the United States and Canada to create a more pure strain.

Sheppard , who leads the Apis Molecular Systematics Laboratory at WSU, studies population genetics and evolution of honey bees, insect introductions and mechanisms of genetic differentiation. His work was featured in a recent edition of the Washington State University Magazine.

Tarpy, now an associate professor and Extension apiculturist, at North Carolina State University, received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis in 2000. He studied with Robert Page, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis who later became the vice provost and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Foundation Professor of Life Sciences, Arizona State University.

Overall, the 21-chapter book “provides an overview of the complexities of honey bee health, including colony collapse disorder (CCD),” Cobey said.

The book, published by CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, Boca Raton, Fla., is edited by research entomologist Diana Sammataro of the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, Tucson, Ariz., part of the Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; and Jay Yoder, professor of microbiology and immunology, Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio.

The purpose of the book, the editors wrote, “is to provide collective knowledge from the many scientists who work with bees, to share their research, and to inspire future generations of researchers, beekeepers and students to continue to study bees and keep them healthy and pollinating.”

The chapters, written by noted bee scientists, range from information on pathogens, parasites, pests and viruses to problems encountered in bee pollination, nutrition, disease outbreak and breeding practices.